The Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
the theology and piety of the Orthodox Church, a special place of honor
is given to the Mother of God the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin
Mary, who is reverenced by the Orthodox as being more honorable than
the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim. As
Orthodox we style her as the most exalted among God's creatures; but we
do not regard her as some sort of goddess, the 4th Person of the
Trinity, as some accuse us; nor do we render her the worship due God
alone. Just as with the Holy Icons, the veneration due Mary is
expressed in quite different words in the Greek writings of the Fathers
than that due God.
At many of the Divine Services, the Deacon
exclaims: Commemorating our Most-Holy, Most-Pure, Most-Blessed and
Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary with all the Saints....
And here we can see three basic truths expressed concerning her.
Virgin Mary is honored because she is Theotokos the Mother of God not
of His divinity, but of His humanity, yet of God in that Jesus Christ
was, in the theology of the Church, both God and Man, at one and the
same time, in the Incarnation. Therefore, the honor given Mary is due
to her relationship to Christ. And this honor, rather than taking away
from that due God, makes us more aware of God's majesty; for it is
precisely on account of the Son (Himself God) that she is venerated. Of
times, when men refuse to honor Mary, it is because they do not believe
in the cause of her veneration the Incarnation of the Second Person of
We also speak of the Theotokos as being Ever-Virgin,
which was officially proclaimed at the 5th Ecumenical Council
(Constantinople 553; the dogma concerning Mary as being Theotokos was
proclaimed in 431 at the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus). This
notion does not actually contradict Holy Scripture, as some would
think. And His mother and His brothers came; and standing outside they
sent to Him and called Him (Mark 3:31). Here the use of the word
brothers in the original Greek can mean half-brother, cousin, or near
relative, in addition to brothers in the strict sense. The Orthodox
Church has always seen brothers here as referring to His half-brothers.
Mary is honored as Theotokos, so too, she is honored because she is
Panagia All-Holy. She is the supreme example of the cooperation between
God and Man; for God, Who always respects human freedom, did not become
incarnate without her free consent which, as Holy Scripture tells us,
was freely given: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to
me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Thus Mary is seen by the Church
as the New Eve (as Christ is the New Adam) whose perfect obedience
contrasted the disobedience of the First Mother, Eve, in Paradise. As
St. Irenaeus says, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed through
the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief,
that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by her faith [Against the Heresies, III,
As All-Holy and Most-Pure, Mary was free from actual
sin, but, in the opinion of most Orthodox theologians, although not
dogmatized by the Church, she did fall under the curse of Original Sin
as does all mankind. For this reason by virtue of her solidarity with
all humanity the Theotokos died a bodily death. Yet, in her case, the
resurrection of the body had been anticipated; and she was assumed body
and soul into Heaven; and her tomb was found empty an event celebrated
in the Feast of the Falling-Asleep (or Dormition) of the Most-Holy
Theotokos (Aug. 15). Thus, as the hymns of that Feast proclaim, she has
passed from earth to heaven, beyond death and judgment, living already
in the age to come. She enjoys now the same bodily glory all of us hope
to share one day.
Whereas the Church has officially proclaimed as
dogmas the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation, the
glorification of the Mother of God belongs to the Inner Tradition of
the Church. As the noted Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky writes:
It is hard to speak and not less hard to think about the mysteries
which the Church keeps in the hidden depths of her inner
consciousness.... The Mother of God was never a theme of the public
preaching of the Apostles; while Christ was preached on the housetops,
and proclaimed for all to know in an initiatory teaching addressed to
the whole world, the mystery of His Mother was revealed only to those
who were within the Church.... It is not so much an object of faith as
a foundation of our hope, a fruit of faith, ripened in Tradition. Let
us therefore keep silence, and let us not try to dogmatize about the
supreme glory of the Mother of God [Panagia, in The Mother of God, ed.
E.L. Mascall, p.35].
Appellations of the Theotokos.
Theotokos is often called an Ark, for the Glory of God settled on her,
just as the Glory of God descended on the Mercy Seat of the Old
Testament Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:10-22).
as Aaron's Rod sprouted miraculously in the Old Testament, so too, the
Theotokos has budded forth the Flower of Immortality, Christ our God
On Mt. Sinai, Moses saw the
Bush that was burning, but was not consumed. So too, the Theotokos bore
the fire of Divinity, but was not consumed (Ex. 3:1-6).
the Old Testament Tabernacle, there were found in the Sanctuary golden
candlesticks. The Theotokos is the Candlestick which held that Light
that illumines the world (Ex. 25:31-40).
as the censer holds a burning coal, so too, the Theotokos held the
Living Coal. In the Apocalypse, there stands an Angel before the Throne
of God, swinging a censer, representing the prayers of the Saints
rising up to God. This is also seen as a symbol of the Theotokos, for
it is her prayers that find special favor before her Son.
the Exodus, the Israelites were led out of Egypt by a Cloud of Light,
symbolizing the presence of God in their midst. So too, the Theotokos
is a Cloud, bearing God within.
book of Judges we read the account of the dew which appeared
miraculously on Gideon's fleece (Judges 6:36-40). So too, the Dew
Christ, appeared miraculously on the Living Fleece the Theotokos.
Holy of Holies.
the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could enter. So too, the
Theotokos is the Holy of Holies into which only the Eternal High Priest
Christ entered (Heb. 9:1-7).
In a dream
Jacob saw a ladder ascending to Heaven, with Angels ascending and
descending on it. The Theotokos is a Ladder, stretching from earth to
Heaven, for on It God descended to man, having become incarnate.
Mountain (from which a Stone was cut not by hand of man).
Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which was cut a stone, not by the
hand of man (Dan. 2:34, 45). This is a reference to the miraculous
Virgin Birth which was accomplished without the hand of man.
The Theotokos was the Palace within which the King Christ our God dwelt.
Stem of Jesse.
the Nativity Service, the Lord is referred to as the Rod from the Stem
of Jesse (Is. 11:1), indicating His lineage from David, which was
fulfilled through the Theotokos, who was a scion (or stem) of the line
of David, the son of Jesse.
Tabernacle was the place where the Glory of God dwelt. So too, the
Glory of God dwelt in the Theotokos the Living Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34).
refers to the Holy Table (Altar Table) on which, at the Divine Liturgy,
the Divine Food is offered. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy Table
which bore the Bread of Life.
Ezekiel speaks of the Temple whose East gate remains sealed, through
which only the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered. This clearly
prophesies the Virgin Birth of the Theotokos (Ez. 44:1-2).
The Theotokos is the Throne upon which Christ, the King of All, rested.
the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant contained within itself a
golden urn filled with the heavenly manna. The Theotokos is the Urn
which contained Christ, the Divine Manna (Heb. 9:1-7).
The Theotokos is the Vine which bore the Ripe Cluster (of Grapes), Christ our Lord.