Archbishop John Maximovitch: The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God

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Saint John of Shang­hai & San Francisco

NOT TOO MANY years ago the Abbess of a con­vent of the Rus­sian Ort­ho­dox Church, a woman of righ­teous life, was deli­ve­ring a ser­mon in the con­vent church on the feast of the Dor­mi­tion of the Most Holy Mot­her of God. With tears she entre­a­ted her nuns and the pil­grims who had come for the feast to accept enti­rely and who­le­hear­tedly what the Church hands down to us, taking such pains to pre­serve this tra­di­tion sacredly all these centuries-and not to choose for one­self what is “important” and what is “dis­pensable”; for by thin­king one­self wiser than the tra­di­tion, one may end by losing the tra­di­tion. Thus, when the Church tells us in her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.

A young Western con­vert who had lear­ned Rus­sian was pre­sent when this ser­mon was deli­ve­red. He him­self had thought about this very sub­ject, having seen icons in the tra­di­tio­nal ico­no­grap­hic style depi­cting the Apost­les being trans­por­ted on clouds to behold the Dor­mi­tion of the Theo­tokos;* and he had asked him­self the question: are we actu­ally to under­stand this “lite­rally,” as a mira­culous event, or is it only a “poe­tic” way of expres­sing the com­ing toget­her of the Apost­les for this event … or per­haps even an imag­i­na­tive or “ideal” depi­ction of an event that never occur­red in fact? (Such, indeed, are some of the questions with which “Ort­ho­dox the­o­lo­gi­ans” occupy them­sel­ves in our days.) The words of the righ­teous Abbess there­fore struck him to the heart, and he under­stood that there was somet­hing dee­per to the recep­tion and under­stan­ding of Ort­ho­doxy than what our own mind and fee­lings tell us. In that instant the tra­di­tion was being han­ded down to him, not from books but from a living ves­sel which con­tai­ned it; and it had to be recei­ved, not with mind or fee­lings only, but above all with the heart, which in this way began to receive its dee­per trai­ning in Orthodoxy.

Later this young con­vert enco­un­te­red, in per­son or through rea­ding, many people who were lear­ned in Ort­ho­dox the­o­logy. They were the “the­o­lo­gi­ans” of our day, those who had been to Ort­ho­dox schools and become the­o­lo­gi­cal “experts.” They were usu­ally quite eager to speak on what was Ort­ho­dox and what non-Orthodox, what was important and what secon­dary in Ort­ho­doxy itself; and a num­ber of them pri­ded them­sel­ves on being “con­ser­va­ti­ves” or “tra­di­tio­na­lists” in faith. But in none of them did he sense the aut­ho­rity of the simple Abbess who had spo­ken to his heart, unlear­ned as she was in such “theology.”

And the heart of this con­vert, still taking his baby steps in Ort­ho­doxy, lon­ged to know how to believe, which means also whom to believe. He was too much a per­son of his times and his own upbrin­ging to be able sim­ply to deny his own rea­so­ning power and believe blindly eve­ryt­hing he was told; and it is very evi­dent that Ort­ho­doxy does not at all demand this of one-the very wri­tings of the Holy Fat­hers are a living memo­rial of the wor­king of human rea­son enligh­te­ned by the grace of God. But it was also obvious that there was somet­hing very much lack­ing in the “the­o­lo­gi­ans” of our day, who for all their logic and their know­ledge of Patri­stic texts, did not con­vey the fee­ling or savor of Ort­ho­doxy as well as a simple, theologically-uneducated Abbess.

Our con­vert found the end of his search-the search for con­tact with the true and living tra­di­tion of Orthodoxy-in Arch­bis­hop John Maxim­ovitch. For here he found someone who was a lear­ned the­o­lo­gian in the “old” school and at the same time was very much aware of all the cri­ti­cisms of that the­o­logy which have been made by the the­o­lo­gi­cal cri­tics of our cen­tury, and was able to use his keen intel­li­gence to find the truth where it might be dis­pu­ted. But he also pos­ses­sed somet­hing which none of the wise “the­o­lo­gi­ans” of our time seem to pos­sess: the same sim­pli­city and aut­ho­rity which the pious Abbess had con­veyed to the heart of the young God-seeker. His heart and mind were won: not because Arch­bis­hop John became for him an “infal­lible expert” — for the Church of Christ does not know any such thing — but because he saw in this holy arch­pa­stor a model of Ort­ho­doxy, a true the­o­lo­gian whose the­o­logy pro­ce­e­ded from a holy life and from total roo­ted­ness in Ort­ho­dox tra­di­tion. When he spoke, his words could be trusted-although he care­fully distingu­is­hed between the Church’s tea­ching, which is certain, and his own per­so­nal opi­ni­ons, which might be mista­ken, and he bound no one to the lat­ter. And our young con­vert discove­red that, for all of Arch­bis­hop John’s intel­lectual keen­ness and cri­ti­cal abi­lity, his words much more often agreed with those of the simple Abbess than with those of the lear­ned the­o­lo­gi­ans of our time.

THE THEOLOGICAL WRITINGS of Arch­bis­hop John belong to no distin­ctive “school,” and they do not reveal the extra­or­di­nary “influ­ence” of any the­o­lo­gi­ans of the recent past. It is true that Arch­bis­hop John was inspi­red to the­o­lo­gize, as well as to become a monk and enter the Church’s ser­vice, by his great tea­cher, Metro­po­li­tan Ant­hony Khra­povit­sky; and it is also true that the stu­dent made his own the teacher’s emp­ha­sis on a “return to the Fat­hers” and to a the­o­logy clo­sely bound to spi­ri­tual and moral life rat­her than aca­de­mic. But Metro­po­li­tan Anthony’s own the­o­lo­gi­cal wri­tings are quite dif­fe­rent in tone, inten­tion, and con­tent: he was very much invol­ved with the the­o­lo­gi­cal aca­de­mic world and with the intel­li­gent­sia of his time, and much of his wri­ting is devo­ted to argu­ments and apo­lo­gies which will be under­stan­dable to these ele­ments of the society he knew. The wri­tings of Arch­bis­hop John, on the other hand, are quite devoid of this apo­lo­ge­tic and dis­puta­tious aspect. He did not argue, he sim­ply pre­sen­ted the Ort­ho­dox tea­ching; and when it was neces­sary to refute false doctri­nes, as espe­ci­ally in his two long arti­c­les on the Sop­hi­o­logy of Bul­gakov, his words were con­vin­cing not by vir­tue of logi­cal argu­men­ta­tion, but rat­her by the power of his pre­sen­ta­tion of the Patri­stic tea­ching in its ori­gi­nal texts. He did not speak to the aca­de­mic or lear­ned world, but to the uncor­rup­ted Ort­ho­dox consci­ence; and he did not speak of a “return to the Fat­hers,” because what he him­self wrote was sim­ply a han­ding down of the Patri­stic tra­di­tion, with no attempt to apo­lo­gize for it.

The sour­ces of Arch­bis­hop John’s the­o­logy are, quite sim­ply: Holy Scrip­ture, the Holy Fat­hers (espe­ci­ally the great Fat­hers of the 4th and 5th cen­turies), and-most distinctively-the Divine ser­vi­ces of the Ort­ho­dox Church. The lat­ter source, rarely used to such an extent by the the­o­lo­gi­ans of recent cen­turies, gives us a clue to the pra­cti­cal, un-academic appro­ach of Arch­bis­hop John to the­o­logy. It is obvious that he was thor­oug­hly immer­sed in the Church’s Divine ser­vi­ces and that his the­o­lo­gi­cal inspira­tion came chie­fly from this pri­mary Patri­stic source which he imbi­bed, not in lei­sure hours set apart for the­o­lo­gizing, but in his daily pra­ctice of being pre­sent at every Divine ser­vice. He drank in the­o­logy as an inte­gral part of daily life, and it was doub­t­less this more than his for­mal the­o­lo­gi­cal stu­dies that actu­ally made him a theologian.

It is under­stan­dable, there­fore, that one will not find in Arch­bis­hop John any the­o­lo­gi­cal “system.” To be sure, he did not pro­test against the great works of “syste­ma­tic the­o­logy” which the 19th cen­tury pro­du­ced in Rus­sia, and he made free use in his mis­sio­nary work of the syste­ma­tic cate­chisms of this period (as, in gene­ral, the great hie­rar­chs of the 19th and 20th cen­turies have done, both in Gre­ece and Rus­sia, see­ing in these cate­chisms an excel­lent aid to the work of Ort­ho­dox enligh­ten­ment among the people); in this respect he was above the fas­hions and par­ties of the­o­lo­gi­ans and stu­dents, both past and pre­sent, who are a little too atta­ched to the par­ti­cu­lar way in which Ort­ho­dox the­o­logy is pre­sen­ted. He showed equal respect for Metro­po­li­tan Ant­hony Khra­povit­sky with his “anti-Western” emp­ha­sis, and for Metro­po­li­tan Peter Mogila with his sup­po­sedly exces­sive “Western influ­ence.” When the defects of one or the other of these great hie­rar­chs and defen­ders of Ort­ho­doxy would be pre­sen­ted to him, he would make a deprecat­ing ges­ture with his hand and say, “unimportant”-because he always had in view first of all the great Patri­stic tra­di­tion which these the­o­lo­gi­ans were suc­ces­sfully han­ding down in spite of their faults. In this respect he has much to teach the youn­ger the­o­lo­gi­ans of our own day, who appro­ach Ort­ho­dox the­o­logy in a spi­rit that is often both too the­o­re­ti­cal and too pole­mi­cal and partisan.

For Arch­bis­hop John the the­o­lo­gi­cal “cate­go­ries” of even the wisest of the­o­lo­gi­cal scho­lars were also “unim­portant” — or rat­her, they were important only to the extent that they com­mu­ni­ca­ted a real mea­ning and did not become merely a mat­ter of rote lear­ning. One inci­dent from his Shang­hai years vividly reve­als the fre­edom of his the­o­lo­gi­cal spi­rit: Once when he was atten­ding the oral exa­mi­na­tions of the senior cate­chism class of his cat­hed­ral school, he inter­rup­ted the per­fectly cor­rect reci­ta­tion by one pupil of the list of Minor Prop­hets of the Old Testa­ment with the abrupt and cate­go­ri­cal asser­tion: “There are no minor prop­hets!” The priest-teacher of this class was under­stan­dably offen­ded at this see­m­ing dis­pa­ra­ge­ment of his tea­ching aut­ho­rity, but pro­bably to this day the stu­dents remem­ber this strange dis­rup­tion of the nor­mal cate­chism “cate­go­ries,” and pos­sibly a few of them under­stood the mes­sage which Arch­bis­hop John tried to con­vey: with God all prop­hets are great, are “major,” and this fact is more important than all the cate­go­ries of our know­ledge of them, howe­ver valid these are in them­sel­ves. In his the­o­lo­gi­cal wri­tings and ser­mons also, Arch­bis­hop John often gives a sur­pri­sing turn to his discourse which uncovers for us some une­xpected aspect or dee­per mea­ning of the sub­ject he is discus­sing. It is obvious that for him the­o­logy is no mere human, eart­hly disci­pline whose riches are exhau­sted by our ratio­nal inter­pre­ta­tions, or at which we can become self-satisfied “experts, “-but rat­her somet­hing that points hea­venward and should draw our minds to God and hea­venly rea­li­ties, which are not gra­sped by logi­cal systems of thought.

One noted Rus­sian Church histo­rian, N. Tal­berg, has sug­ge­sted (in the Chro­ni­cle of Bis­hop Savva, ch. 23) that Arch­bis­hop John is to be under­stood first of all as “a fool for Christ’s sake who remai­ned such even in epi­sco­pal rank,” and in this respect he com­pa­res him to St. Gre­gory the The­o­lo­gian, who also did not con­form, in ways similar to Arch­bis­hop John, to the stan­dard “image” of a bis­hop. It is this “foo­lis­h­ness” (by the world’s stan­dards) that gives a cha­ra­cte­ri­stic tone to the theo logi­cal wri­tings both of St. Gre­gory and of Arch­bis­hop John: a certain deta­ch­ment from public opi­nion, what “eve­ry­one thinks” and thus the belon­ging to no ((party” or “school”; the appro­ach to the­o­lo­gi­cal questions from an exal­ted, non-academic point of view and thus the healthy avoi­dance of petty dis­pu­tes and the quar­relsome spi­rit; the fresh, une­xpected turns of thought which make their the­o­lo­gi­cal wri­tings first of all a source of inspira­tion and of a truly dee­per under­stan­ding of God’s revelation.

Per­haps most of all one is impres­sed by the utter sim­pli­city of Arch­bis­hop John’s wri­tings. It is obvious that he accepts the Ort­ho­dox tra­di­tion straight­forwardly and enti­rely, with no “double” thoughts as to how one can believe the tra­di­tion and still be a “sop­hi­sti­ca­ted” modern man. He was aware of modern “cri­ti­cism,” and if asked could give his sound rea­sons for not accep­ting it on most points. He stu­died thor­oug­hly the question of “Western influ­ence” in Ort­ho­doxy in recent cen­turies and had a well-balanced view of it, care­fully distingu­is­hing between what is to be rejected out­right as foreign to Ort­ho­doxy, what is to be discou­ra­ged but wit­hout “making an issue)) over it, and what is to be accep­ted as con­ducive to true Ort­ho­dox life and piety (a point that is espe­ci­ally reve­a­ling of Arch­bis­hop John’s lack of “precon­cei­ved opi­ni­ons,” and his testing of eve­ryt­hing by sound Ort­ho­doxy). But despite all his know­ledge and exercise of cri­ti­cal jud­g­ment, he con­ti­nued to believe the Ort­ho­dox tra­di­tion sim­ply, just as the Church has han­ded it down to us. Most Ort­ho­dox the­o­lo­gi­ans of our time, even if they may have esca­ped the worst effects of the Protestant-reformer men­ta­lity, still view Ort­ho­dox tra­di­tion through the specta­c­les of the aca­de­mic environ­ment in which they are at home; but Arch­bis­hop John was “at home” first and fore­most in the church ser­vi­ces at which he spent many hours every day, and thus the tinge of ratio­na­lism (not neces­sa­rily in a bad sense) of even the best of aca­de­mic the­o­lo­gi­ans was totally absent in his thought. In his wri­tings there are no “pro­blems”; his usu­ally numerous foo­t­no­tes are solely for the sake of infor­m­ing where the tea­ching of the Church is to be found. In this respect he is abso­lu­tely at one with the “mind of the Fat­hers,” and he appears in our midst as one of them, and not as a mere com­men­ta­tor on the the­o­logy of the past.

The the­o­lo­gi­cal wri­tings of Arch­bis­hop John, prin­ted in various church peri­o­di­cals over four deca­des, have not yet been col­lected in one place. Those pre­sently avai­lable to the St. Her­man of Ala­ska Bro­t­her­hood would fill a volume of somet­hing more than 200 pages. His lon­ger wri­tings belong for the most part to his ear­lier years as a hiero­monk in Yugoslavia, where he was alre­ady noted as out­stan­ding among Ort­ho­dox the­o­lo­gi­ans. Espe­ci­ally valu­able are his two arti­c­les on the Sop­hi­o­logy of Bul­gakov, one of them reve­a­ling con­vin­cingly, in a very objective man­ner, Bulgakov’s total incom­pe­tence as a Patri­stic scho­lar, and the other being of even gre­a­ter value as a clas­sic expo­si­tion of the true Patri­stic doctrine of the Divine Wis­dom. Among his later wri­tings one should men­tion his arti­cle on Ort­ho­dox ico­no­graphy (where, inci­den­tally, he shows him­self much more aware than his tea­cher, Metr. Ant­hony, of the question of “Western influ­ence” in ico­no­grap­hic style); the series of ser­mons entit­led “Three Evan­ge­li­cal Feasts,” where he uncovers the dee­per mea­ning of some of the “les­ser” church feasts; and the arti­cle “The Church: the Body of Christ.” His short arti­c­les and ser­mons also are deeply the­o­lo­gi­cal. One ser­mon begins with a “Hymn to God” of St. Gre­gory the The­o­lo­gian and con­ti­nues, in the same exal­ted, Patri­stic tone, as an inspi­red accu­s­a­tion against con­tem­porary god­les­sness; ano­t­her, spo­ken on Pas­sion Fri­day, 1936, is a moving address to Christ lying in the tomb, in a tone worthy of the same Holy Father.

We begin this series of trans­la­tions with Arch­bis­hop John’s clas­sic expo­si­tion of the Ort­ho­dox vene­ra­tion of the Mot­her of God and of the chief err­ors which have atta­cked it. Its lon­gest chap­ter is a clear and striking refuta­tion of the Latin dogma of the “Imma­cu­late Conception.”

The Vene­ra­tion of the Mot­her of God During Her Eart­hly Life

FROM APOSTOLIC TIMES and to our days all who truly love Christ give vene­ra­tion to Her Who gave birth to Him, rai­sed Him and pro­tected Him in the days of His youth. If God the Fat­her chose Her, God the Holy Spi­rit des­cen­ded upon Her, and God the Son dwelt in Her, sub­mit­ted to Her in the days of His youth, was con­cer­ned for Her when han­ging on the Cros­st­hen should not eve­ry­one who con­fes­ses the Holy Tri­nity vene­rate Her?

Still in the days of Her eart­hly life the fri­ends of Christ, the Apost­les, mani­fe­sted a great con­cern and devo­tion for the Mot­her of the Lord, espe­ci­ally the Evan­ge­list John the The­o­lo­gian, who, ful­fil­ling the will of Her Divine Son, took Her to him­self and took care for Her as for a mot­her from the time when the Lord utte­red to him from the Cross the words: Behold thy mother.”

The Evan­ge­list Luke pain­ted a num­ber of ima­ges of Her, some toget­her with the Pre-eternal Child, others wit­hout Him. When he brought them and showed them to the Most Holy Vir­gin, She appro­ved them and said: “The grace of My Son shall be with them, ” and repe­a­ted the hymn She had once sung in the house of Eliza­beth: “My soul doth mag­nify the Lord, and My spi­rit hath rejoi­ced in God My Saviour.”

Howe­ver, the Vir­gin Mary during Her eart­hly life avoi­ded the glory which belon­ged to Her as the Mot­her of the Lord. She pre­fer­red to live in quiet and pre­pare Her­self for the depar­ture into eter­nal life. To the last day of Her eart­hly life She took care to prove worthy of the King­dom of Her Son, and before death She prayed that He might deli­ver Her soul from the mali­cious spi­rits that meet human souls on the way to hea­ven and strive to seize them so as to take them away with them to hades. The Lord ful­fil­led the prayer of His Mot­her and in the hour of Her death Him­self came from hea­ven with a mul­ti­tude of angels to receive Her soul.

Since the Mot­her of God had also prayed that She might bid farewell to the Apost­les, the Lord gat­he­red for Her death all the Apost­les, except Tho­mas, and they were brought by an invi­sible power on that day to Jerus­a­lem from all the ends of the inha­bi­ted world, where they were prea­ching, and they were pre­sent at Her bles­sed trans­la­tion into eter­nal life. The Apost­les gave Her most pure body over to burial with sacred hymns, and on the third day they ope­ned the tomb so as once more to vene­rate the remains of the Mot­her of God toget­her with the Apostle Tho­mas, who had arri­ved then in Jerus­a­lem. But they did not find the body in the tomb and in per­ple­xity they retur­ned to their own place; and then, during their meal, the Mot­her of God Her­self appea­red to them in the air, shin­ing with hea­venly light, and infor­med them that Her Son had glo­ri­fied Her body also, and She, resur­rected, stood before His Throne. At the same time, She pro­mi­sed to be with them always.

The Apost­les gre­e­ted the Mot­her of God with great joy and began to vene­rate Her not only as the Mot­her of their belo­ved Tea­cher and Lord, but also as their hea­venly hel­per, as a pro­tector of Chri­sti­ans and inter­ces­sor for the whole human race before the Righ­teous Judge. And eve­rywhere the Gospel of Christ was prea­ched, His Most Pure Mot­her also began to be glorified.

The First Ene­mies of the Vene­ra­tion of The Mot­her of God

THE MORE the faith of Christ spread and the Name of the Saviour of the world was glo­ri­fied on earth, and toget­her with Him also She Who was vou­chs­a­fed to be the Mot­her of the God-Man,-the more did the hatred of the ene­mies of Christ increase towards Her. Mary was the Mot­her of Jesus. She mani­fe­sted a hit­herto unheard-of example of purity and righ­teo­us­ness, and furt­her­more, now depar­ted from this life, She was a mighty sup­port for Chri­sti­ans, even. though invi­sible to bodily eyes. There­fore all who hated Jesus Christ and did not believe in Him, who did not under­stand His tea­ching, or to be more pre­cise, did not wish to under­stand as the Church under­stood, who wis­hed to replace the prea­ching of Christ with their own human reasonings-all of these trans­fer­red their hatred for Christ, for the Gospel and the Church, to the Most Pure Vir­gin Mary. They wis­hed to belittle the Mot­her, so as the­reby to destroy faith also in Her Son, to cre­ate a false pic­ture of Her among men in order to have the opportu­nity to rebu­ild the whole Chri­stian tea­ching on a dif­fe­rent foun­da­tion. In the womb of Mary, God and man were joi­ned. She was the One Who ser­ved as it were as the lad­der for the Son of God, Who des­cen­ded from hea­ven. To strike a blow at Her vene­ra­tion means to strike Chri­sti­a­nity at the root, to destroy it in its very foundation.

And the very begin­ning, of Her hea­venly glory was mar­ked on earth by an out­burst of malice and hatred toward Her by unbe­lie­vers. When, after Her holy repose, the Apost­les were car­rying Her body for burial in Get­h­se­mane, to the place cho­sen by her, John the The­o­lo­gian went ahead car­rying the branch from para­dise which the Archan­gel Gabriel had brought to the Holy Vir­gin three days before this when he came from hea­ven to anno­unce to Her Her appro­a­ching depar­ture to the hea­venly mansions.

When Israel went out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among a bar­ba­rous people,” chan­ted St. Peter from Psalm 113; “Alle­luia,” sang the whole assem­bly of the Apost­les toget­her with their discip­les, as for example, Dio­ny­sius the Are­o­pagite, who likewise had been mira­culously trans­por­ted at that time to Jerus­a­lem. And while this sacred hymn was being sung, which was cal­led by the J ews the ” G reat Alle­luia, ” that is, the great “Pra­ise ye the Lord,” one Jewish pri­est, Atho­nius, lea­ped up to the bier and wis­hed to over­turn it and throw to the gro­und the body of the Mot­her of God.

The bra­zen­ness of Atho­nius was imme­di­a­tely punis­hed: the Archan­gel Michael with an invi­sible sword cut off his hand, which remai­ned han­ging on the bier. The thund­er­struck Atho­nius, expe­ri­en­cing a tormen­ting pain, in awa­re­ness of his sin, tur­ned in prayer to the Jesus Whom he had hated up to then and he was imme­di­a­tely hea­led. He did not delay in accep­ting Chri­sti­a­nity and con­fes­sing it before his for­mer co-religionists, for which he recei­ved from them a martyr’s death. Thus, the attempt to offend the honor of the Mot­her of God ser­ved for Her gre­a­ter glorification.

The ene­mies of Christ resol­ved not to mani­fest their lack of vene­ra­tion for the body of the Most Pure One furt­her at that time by crude vio­lence, but their malice did not cease. See­ing that Chri­sti­a­nity was spre­a­ding eve­rywhere, they began to spread various vile slan­ders about Chri­sti­ans. They did not spare the name of the Mot­her of Christ eit­her, and they inven­ted the story that Jesus of Naza­reth had come from a base and immoral environ­ment, and that His Mot­her had asso­ci­a­ted with a certain Roman soldier.

But here the lie was too evi­dent for this fiction to attract serious atten­tion. The whole family of Joseph the Betro­t­hed and Mary Her­self were known well by the inha­bi­tants of Naza­reth and the sur­ro­un­ding –coun­tryside in their time. Whence bath this man this wis­dom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mot­her cal­led Mary, and his bret­hren: James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? (Matt. 13:54–55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22.) So said His fel­lowco­un­try­men in Naza­reth when Christ reve­a­led before them in the syna­gogue His other-worldly wis­dom. In small towns the family mat­ters of eve­ry­one are well known; very strict watch was kept then over the purity of mar­ried life.

Would people really have beha­ved with respect towards Jesus, cal­led Him to preach in the syna­gogue, if He had been born of ille­gi­ti­mate coha­bi­ta­tion? To Mary the law of Moses would have been applied, which com­man­ded that such per­sons be sto­ned to death; and the Pha­ri­sees would have taken the opportu­nity many times to repro­ach Christ for the con­duct of His Mot­her. But just the con­trary was the case. Mary enjoyed great respect; at Cana She was an honored guest at the wed­ding, and even when Her Son was con­dem­ned, no one allowed him­self to ridi­cule or cen­sure His Mother.

Attempts of Jews and Her­e­tics to Dis­ho­nor The Ever-Virginity of Mary

THE JEWISH slan­de­rers soon became con­vin­ced that it was almost impos­sible to dis­ho­nor the Mot­her of Jesus, and on the basis of the infor­ma­tion which they them­sel­ves pos­ses­sed it was much easier to prove Her pra­i­seworthy life. There­fore, they aban­do­ned this slan­der of theirs, which had alre­ady been taken up by the pagans (Ori­gen, Against Celsus, I),and strove to prove at least that Mary was not a vir­gin when She gave birth to Christ. They even said that the prop­he­cies con­cer­ning the birth-giving of the Mes­siah by a vir­gin had never exi­sted, and that there­fore it was enti­rely in vain that Chri­sti­ans thought to exalt Jesus by the fact that a prop­hecy was sup­po­sedly being ful­fil­led in Him.

Jewish trans­la­tors were found (Aquila, Sym­ma­chus, Theo­do­tion) who made new trans­la­tions of the Old Testa­ment into Greek and in these trans­la­ted the well-known prop­hecy of Isaiah (Is. 7:14) thus: Behold, a young woman will con­ceive. They asser­ted that the Hebrew word Aalma sig­ni­fied “young woman” and not “vir­gin,” as stood in the sacred trans­la­tion of the Seventy Trans­la­tors [Sep­tu­ag­int], where this pas­sage had been trans­la­ted “Behold, a vir­gin shall conceive.”

By this new trans­la­tion they wis­hed to prove that Chri­sti­ans, on the basis of an incor­rect trans­la­tion of the word Aalma, thought to ascribe to Mary somet­hing com­ple­tely impos­sible a birth-giving wit­hout a man, while in actu­a­lity the birth of Christ was not in the least dif­fe­rent from other human births.

Howe­ver, the evil inten­tion of the new trans­la­tors was clearly reve­a­led because by a com­pa­ri­son of various pas­sa­ges in the Bible it became clear that the word Aalma sig­ni­fied pre­ci­sely “vir­gin.” And indeed, not only the Jews, but even the pagans, on the basis of their own tra­di­tions and various prop­he­cies, expected the Rede­e­mer of the world to be born of a Vir­gin. The Gospels clearly sta­ted that the Lord Jesus had been born of a Virgin.

How shall this be, see­ing I know not a man? asked Mary, Who had given a vow of vir­gi­nity, of the Archan­gel Gabriel, who had infor­med Her of the birth of Christ.

And the Angel replied: The Holy Spi­rit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Most High shall overs­ha­dow Thee; where­fore also that which is to be born shall be holy, and shall be cal­led the Son of God (Luke 1:34–35). Later the Angel appea­red also to righ­teous Joseph, who had wis­hed to put away Mary from his house, see­ing that She had con­cei­ved wit­hout ente­ring into conju­gal coha­bi­ta­tion with him. To Joseph the Archan­gel Gabriel said: Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is begot­ten in Her is of the Holy Spi­rit, and he remin­ded him of the prop­hecy of Isaiah that a vir­gin would con­ceive (Matt. 1: 18–2 5).The rod of Aaron that bud­ded, the rock torn away from the moun­tain wit­hout hands, seen by Nebu­chad­nezzar in a dream and inter­pre­ted by the Prop­het Daniel, the clo­sed gate seen by the Prop­het Ezekiel, and much else in the Old Testa­ment, pre­fi­gu­red the birth-giving of the Vir­gin. Just as Adam had been cre­a­ted by the Word of God from the unwor­ked and vir­gin earth, so also the Word of God cre­a­ted flesh for Him­self from a vir­gin womb when the Son of God became the new Adam so as to cor­rect the fall into sin of the first Adam (St. Ire­na­eus of Lyons, Book 111).

The seed­less birth of Christ can and could be denied only by those who deny the Gospel, whe­reas the Church of Christ from of old con­fes­ses Christ “incar­nate of the Holy Spi­rit and the Vir­gin Mary.” But the birth of God from the Ever-Virgin was a stum­bling stone for those who wis­hed to call them­sel­ves Chri­sti­ans but did not wish to hum­ble them­sel­ves in mind and be zea­lous for purity of life. The pure life of Mary was a repro­ach for those who were impure also in their thoughts. So as to show them­sel­ves Chri­sti­ans, they did not dare to deny that Christ was born of a Vir­gin, but they began to affirm that Mary remai­ned a vir­gin only until she brought forth her first-born son, Jesus (Matt. 1:25).

After the birth of Jesus,” said the false tea­cher Hel­vi­dius in the 4th cen­tury, and likewise many others before and after him, “Mary ente­red into conju­gal life with Joseph and had from him chil­dren, who are cal­led in the Gospels the bro­t­hers and sisters of Christ.” But the word “until” does not sig­nify that Mary remai­ned a vir­gin only until a certain time. The word “until” and words similar to it often sig­nify eter­nity. In the Sacred Scrip­ture it is said of Christ: In His days shall shine forth righ­teo­us­ness and an abun­dance of peace, until the moon be taken away (Ps. 71:7), but this does not mean that when there shall no lon­ger be a moon at the end of the world, God’s righ­teo­us­ness shall no lon­ger be; pre­ci­sely then, rat­her, will it tri­umph. And what does it mean when it says: For He must reign, until He hath put all ene­mies under His feet? (I Cor. 15:25). Is the Lord then to reign only for the time until His ene­mies shall be under His feet?! And David, in the fourth Psalm of the Ascents says: As the eyes of the hand­maid look unto the bands of her mistress, so do our eyes look unto the Lord our God, until He take pity on us (Ps. 122:2). Thus, the Prop­het will have his eyes toward the Lord until he obtains mercy, but having obtai­ned it he will direct them to the earth? (Bles­sed Jerome, “On the Ever-Virginity of Bles­sed Mary.”) The Saviour in the Gospel says to the Apost­les (Matt. 28:20): Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Thus, after the end of the world the Lord will step away from His discip­les, and then, when they shall judge the twelve tri­bes of Israel upon twelve thro­nes, they will not have the pro­mi­sed com­mu­nion with the Lord? (Bles­sed Jerome, op. cit.)

It is likewise incor­rect to think that the bro­t­hers and sisters of Christ were the chil­dren of His Most Holy Mot­her. The names of “bro­t­her” and “sister” have seve­ral distinct mea­nings. Sig­ni­fying a certain kins­hip between people or their spi­ri­tual clo­se­ness, these words are used some­ti­mes in a bro­a­der, and some­ti­mes in a nar­rower sense. In any case, people are cal­led bro­t­hers or sisters if they have a com­mon fat­her and mot­her, or only a com­mon fat­her or mot­her; or even if they have dif­fe­rent fat­hers and mot­hers, if their parents later (having become widowed) have ente­red into mar­ri­age (step­bro­t­hers); or if their parents are bound by close degrees of kinship.

In the Gospel it can nowhere be seen that those who are cal­led there the bro­t­hers of Jesus were or were con­si­de­red the chil­dren of His Mot­her. On the con­trary, it was known that James and others were the sons of Joseph, the Betro­t­hed of Mary, who was a widower with chil­dren from his first wife. (St. Epip­ha­nius of Cyprus, Pana­rion, 78.) Likewise, the sister of His Mot­her, Mary the wife of Cle­o­pas, who stood with Her at the Cross of the Lord (John 19:25), also had chil­dren, who in view of such close kins­hip with full right could also be cal­led bro­t­hers of the Lord. That the so-called bro­t­hers and sisters of the Lord were not the chil­dren of His Mot­her is clearly evi­dent from the fact that the Lord entru­sted His Mot­her before His death to His belo­ved disciple John. Why should He do this if She had other chil­dren besi­des Him? They them­sel­ves would have taken care of Her. The sons of Joseph, the sup­po­sed fat­her of Jesus, did not con­si­der them­sel­ves obli­ged to take care of one they regar­ded as their step­mo­t­her, or at least did not have for Her such love as blood chil­dren have for parents, and such as the adop­ted John had for Her.


Thus, a care­ful study of Sacred Scrip­ture reve­als with com­plete cla­rity the insub­stan­ti­a­lity of the objections against the Ever-Virginity of Mary and puts to shame those who teach differently.

The Nesto­rian Her­esy and The Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Council

WHEN ALL THOSE who had dared to speak against the san­ctity and purity of the Most Holy Vir­gin Mary had been redu­ced to silence, an attempt was made to destroy Her vene­ra­tion as Mot­her of God. In the 5th cen­tury the Arch­bis­hop of Con­stan­ti­nople, Nesto­rius, began to preach that of Mary had been born only the man Jesus, in Whom the Divi­nity had taken abode and dwelt in Him as in a temple. At first he allowed his pres­byter Anast­a­sius and then he him­self began to teach openly in church that one should not call Mary “Theo­tokos, since She had not given birth to the God-Man. He con­si­de­red it deme­a­ning for him­self to wors­hip a child wrap­ped in swad­dling clo­t­hes and lying in a manger.

Such ser­mons evo­ked a uni­ver­sal dis­tur­bance and une­ase over the purity of faith, at first in Con­stan­ti­nople and then eve­rywhere else where rumors of the new tea­ching spread. St. Pro­clus, the disciple of St. John Chryso­stom’ who was then Bis­hop of Cyzi­cus and later Arch­bis­hop of Con­stan­ti­nople, in the pre­sence of Nesto­rius gave in church a ser­mon in which he con­fes­sed the Son of God born in the flesh of the Vir­gin, Who in truth is the Theo­tokos (Bir­t­h­gi­ver of God), for alre­ady in the womb of the Most Pure One, at the time of Her con­cep­tion, the Divi­nity was uni­ted with the Child con­cei­ved of the Holy Spi­rit; and this Child, even though He was born of the Vir­gin Mary only in His human nature, still was born alre­ady true God and true man.
Nesto­rius stub­bornly refu­sed to change his tea­ching, saying that one must distingu­ish between Jesus and the Son of God, that Mary should not be cal­led Theo­tokos, but Chri­sto­tokos (Bir­t­h­gi­ver of Christ), since the Jesus Who was born of Mary was only the man Christ (which sig­ni­fies Mes­siah, ano­in­ted one), like to God’s ano­in­ted ones of old, the prop­hets, only sur­pas­sing them in ful­l­ness of com­mu­nion with God. The tea­ching of Nesto­rius thus con­sti­tu­ted a denial of the whole eco­nomy of God, for if from Mary only a man was born, then it was not God Who suf­fe­red for us, but a man.

St. Cyril, Arch­bis­hop of Ale­xan­dria, fin­ding out about the tea­ching of Nesto­rius and about the church disor­ders evo­ked by this tea­ching in Con­stan­ti­nople, wrote a let­ter to Nesto­rius, in which he tried to per­su­ade him to hold the tea­ching which the Church had con­fes­sed from its foun­da­tion, and not to intro­duce anyt­hing novel into this tea­ching. In addi­tion, St. Cyril wrote to the clergy and people of Con­stan­ti­nople that they should be firm in the Ort­ho­dox faith and not fear the per­secu­tions by Nesto­rius against those who were not in agre­e­ment with him. St. Cyril also wrote infor­m­ing of eve­ryt­hing to Rome, to the holy Pope Celestine, who with all his flock was then firm in Orthodoxy.

St. Celestine for his part wrote to Nesto­rius and cal­led upon him to preach the Ort­ho­dox faith, and not his own. But Nesto­rius remai­ned deaf to all per­su­a­sion and replied that what he was prea­ching was the Ort­ho­dox faith, while his oppo­nents were her­e­tics. St. Cyril wrote Nesto­rius again and com­po­sed twelve anat­he­mas, that is, set forth in twelve para­graphs the chief dif­fe­ren­ces of the Ort­ho­dox tea­ching from the tea­ching prea­ched by Nesto­rius, ack­now­led­ging as excom­mu­ni­ca­ted from the Church eve­ry­one who should reject even a single one of the para­graphs he had composed.

Nesto­rius rejected the whole of the text com­po­sed by St. Cyril and wrote his own expo­si­tion of the tea­ching which he prea­ched, likewise in twelve para­graphs, giving over to anat­hema (that is, excom­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Church) eve­ry­one who did not accept it. The dan­ger to purity of faith was increa­sing all the time. St. Cyril wrote a let­ter to Theo­do­sius the Youn­ger, who was then reig­ning, to his wife Eudo­cia and to the Emperor’s sister Pul­che­ria, entre­at­ing them likewise to con­cern them­sel­ves with ecc­lesi­a­sti­cal mat­ters and restrain the heresy.

It was deci­ded to con­vene an Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, at which hie­rar­chs, gat­he­red from the ends of the world, should decide whet­her the faith prea­ched by Nesto­rius was Ort­ho­dox. As the place for the coun­cil, which was to be the Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, they chose the city of Ephe­sus, in which the Most Holy Vir­gin Mary had once dwelt toget­her with the Apostle John the The­o­lo­gian. St. Cyril gat­he­red his fel­low bis­hops in Egypt and toget­her with them tra­vel­led by sea to Ephe­sus. From Antioch over­land came John, Arch­bis­hop of Antioch, with the Eastern bis­hops. The Bis­hop of Rome, St. Celestine, could not go him­self and asked St. Cyril to defend the Ort­ho­dox faith, and in addi­tion he sent from him­self two bis­hops and the pres­byter of the Roman Church Phi­lip, to whom he also gave instructions as to what to say. To Ephe­sus there came likewise Nesto­rius and the bis­hops of the Con­stan­ti­nople region, and the bis­hops of Palestine, Asia Minor, and Cyprus.

On the 10th of the calends of July accor­ding to the Roman rec­k­o­ning, that is, June 22, 43 1, in the Ephe­sian Church of the Vir­gin Mary, the bis­hops assem­b­led, hea­ded by the Bis­hop of Ale­xan­dria, Cyril, and the Bis­hop of Ephe­sus, Mem­non, and took their pla­ces. In their midst was pla­ced a Gospel as a sign of the invi­sible heads­hip of the Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil by Christ Him­self. At first the Sym­bol of Faith which had been com­po­sed by the First and Second Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cils was read; then there was read to the Coun­cil the Impe­rial Pro­c­la­ma­tion which was brought by the rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves of the Emper­ors Theo­do­sius and Valen­ti­nian, Emper­ors of the Eastern and Western parts of the Empire.

The Impe­rial Pro­c­la­ma­tion having been heard, the rea­ding of docu­ments began, and there were read the Epi­st­les of Cyril and Celestine to Nesto­rius, as well as the replies of Nesto­rius. The Coun­cil, by the lips of its mem­bers, ack­now­led­ged the tea­ching of Nesto­rius to be impious and con­dem­ned it, ack­now­led­ging Nesto­rius as depri­ved of his See and of the pri­est­hood. A decree was com­po­sed con­cer­ning this which was sig­ned by about 160 par­ti­ci­pants of the Coun­cil; and since some of them rep­re­sen­ted also other bis­hops who did not have the opportu­nity to be per­so­nally at the Coun­cil, the decree of the Coun­cil was actu­ally the deci­sion of more than 200 bis­hops, who had their Sees in the various regions of the Church at that time, and they testi­fied that they con­fes­sed the Faith which from all antiquity had been kept in their localities.

Thus the decree of the Coun­cil was the voice of the Ecu­me­ni­cal Church, which clearly expres­sed its faith that Christ, born of the Vir­gin, is the true God Who became man; and inas­much as Mary gave birth to the per­fect Man Who was at the same time per­fect God, She rightly should be reve­red as THEOTOKOS.

At the end of the ses­sion its decree was imme­di­a­tely com­mu­ni­ca­ted to the wai­ting people. The whole of Ephe­sus rejoi­ced when it found out that the vene­ra­tion of the Holy Vir­gin had been defen­ded, for She was espe­ci­ally reve­red in this city, of which She had been a resi­dent during Her eart­hly life and a Patro­ness after Her depar­ture into eter­nal life. The people gre­e­ted the Fat­hers ecsta­ti­cally when in the eve­ning they retur­ned home after the ses­sion. They accom­pa­nied them to their homes with ligh­ted tor­ches and bur­ned incense in the stre­ets. Eve­rywhere were to be heard joy­ful gre­e­tings, the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the Ever-Virgin, and the pra­i­ses of the Fat­hers who had defen­ded Her name against the her­e­tics. The decree of the Coun­cil was dis­played in the stre­ets of Ephesus.

The Coun­cil had five more ses­sions, on June 10 and 11, July 16, 17, and and August 3 1. At these ses­sions there were set forth, in six canons, mea­su­res for action against those who would dare to spread the tea­ching of Nesto­rius and change the decree of the Coun­cil of Ephesus.

At the com­plaint of the bis­hops of Cyprus against the pre­ten­sions of the Bis­hop of Antioch, the Coun­cil decreed that the Church of Cyprus should pre­serve its inde­pen­dence in Church gover­n­ment, which it had pos­ses­sed from the Apost­les, and that in gene­ral none of the bis­hops should sub­ject to them­sel­ves regions which had been pre­viously inde­pen­dent from them, “lest under the pre­text of pri­est­hood the pride of eart­hly power should steal in, and lest we lose, rui­ning it little by little, the fre­edom which our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deli­ve­rer of all men, has given us by His Blood.”

The Coun­cil likewise con­fir­med the con­dem­na­tion of the Pelagian her­esy, which taught that man can be saved by his own powers wit­hout the neces­sity of having the grace of God. It also deci­ded certain mat­ters of church gover­n­ment, and addres­sed epi­st­les to the bis­hops who had not atten­ded the Coun­cil, anno­un­cing its decrees and cal­ling upon all to stand on guard for the Ort­ho­dox Faith and the peace of the Church. At the same time the Coun­cil ack­now­led­ged that the tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Ecu­me­ni­cal Church had been fully and clearly enough set forth in the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Sym­bol of Faith, which is why it itself did not com­pose a new Sym­bol of Faith and for­bade in future “to com­pose ano­t­her Faith,” that is, to com­pose other Sym­bols of Faith or make chan­ges in the Sym­bol which had been con­fir­med at the Second Ecu­me­ni­cal Council.

This lat­ter decree was vio­la­ted seve­ral cen­turies later by Western Chri­sti­ans when, at first in sepa­rate pla­ces, and then throug­hout the whole Roman Church, there was made to the Sym­bol the addi­tion that the Holy Spi­rit pro­ce­eds “and from the Son,” which addi­tion has been appro­ved by the Roman Popes from the I I th cen­tury, even though up until that time their pre­de­ces­sors, begin­ning with St. Celestine, firmly kept to the deci­sion of the Coun­cil of Ephe­sus, which was the Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, and ful­fil­led it.

Thus the peace which had been destroyed by Nesto­rius sett­led once more in the Church. The true Faith had been defen­ded and false tea­ching accused.

The Coun­cil of Ephe­sus is rightly vene­ra­ted as Ecu­me­ni­cal, on the same level as the Coun­cils of Nicaea and Con­stan­ti­nople which pre­ce­ded it. At it there were pre­sent rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves of the whole Church. Its deci­sions were accep­ted by the whole Church “from one end of the uni­verse to the other.” At it there was con­fes­sed the tea­ching which had been held from Apo­sto­lic times. The Coun­cil did not cre­ate a new tea­ching, but it loudly testi­fied of the truth which some had tried to replace by an inven­tion. It pre­ci­sely set forth the con­fes­sion of the Divi­nity of Christ Who was born of the Vir­gin. The belief of the Church and its jud­g­ment on this question were now so clearly expres­sed that no one could any lon­ger ascribe to the Church his own false rea­so­nings. In the future there could arise other questions deman­ding the deci­sion of the whole Church, but not the question

Sub­sequent Coun­cils based them­sel­ves in their deci­sions on the decrees of the Coun­cils which had pre­ce­ded them. They did not com­pose a new Sym­bol of Faith, but only gave an expla­na­tion of it. At the Third Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil there was firmly and clearly con­fes­sed Pre­viously the Holy Fat­hers had accu­sed those who had slan­de­red the imma­cu­late life of the Vir­gin Mary; and now con­cer­ning those who had tried to les­sen Her honor it was pro­clai­med to all: “He who does not con­fess Imma­nuel to be true God and there­fore the Holy Vir­gin to be Theo­tokos, because She gave birth in the flesh to the Word Who is from God the Fat­her and Who became flesh, let him be anat­hema (sepa­ra­ted from the Church)” (First Anat­hema of St. Cyril of Alexandria).

Attempts of Ico­no­clasts to Les­sen The Glory of the Queen of Hea­ven;
They are put to shame.

AFTER THE THIRD Ecu­me­ni­cal Coun­cil, Chri­sti­ans began yet more fer­vently, both in Con­stan­ti­nople and in other pla­ces, to hasten to the inter­ces­sion of the Mot­her of God and their hopes in Her inter­ces­sion were not vain. She mani­fe­sted Her help to innu­me­rable sick people, help­less people, and those in mis­fortune. Many times She appea­red as defen­der of Con­stan­ti­nople against outward ene­mies, once even showing in visible fas­hion to St. Andrew the Fool for Christ Her won­drous Pro­tection over the people who were praying at night in the Temple of Blachernae.

The Queen of Hea­ven gave victory in batt­les to the Byzan­tine Emper­ors, which is why they had the custom to take with them in their campaigns Her Icon of Hodi­gi­tria (Guide). She strengt­he­ned asce­tics and zea­lots of Chri­stian life in their battle against human pas­sions and weak­nes­ses. She enligh­te­ned and instructed the Fat­hers and Tea­chers of the Church ’ inclu­ding St. Cyril of Ale­xan­dria him­self when he was hesi­tat­ing to ack­now­ledge the inno­cence and san­ctity of St. John Chryso­stom. The Most Pure Vir­gin pla­ced hymns in the mouths of the com­po­sers of church hymns, some­ti­mes making renow­ned sin­gers out of the untalen­ted who had no gift of song, but who were pious labo­rers, such as St. Roma­nus the Sweet-Singer (the Melo­dist). Is it there­fore sur­pri­sing that Chri­sti­ans strove to mag­nify the name of their con­stant Inter­ces­sor? In Her honor feasts were establis­hed, to Her were dedi­ca­ted won­drous songs, and Her Ima­ges were revered.

The malice of the prince of this world armed the sons of apost­asy once more to raise battle against Imma­nuel and His Mot­her in this same Con­stan­ti­nople, which reve­red now, as Ephe­sus had pre­viously, the Mot­her of God as its Inter­ces­sor. Not daring at first to speak openly against the Cham­pion Gene­ral, they wis­hed to les­sen Her glo­ri­fi­ca­tion by for­bid­ding the vene­ra­tion of the Icons of Christ and His saints, cal­ling this idol-worship. The Mot­her of God now also strengt­he­ned zea­lots of piety in the battle for the vene­ra­tion of Ima­ges, mani­festing many signs from Her Icons and hea­ling the seve­red hand of St. John of Dama­scus who had writ­ten in defence of the Icons.

The per­secu­tion against the vene­ra­tors of Icons and Saints ended again in the victory and tri­umph of Ort­ho­doxy, for the vene­ra­tion given to the Icons ascends to those who are depi­cted in them; and the holy ones of God are vene­ra­ted as fri­ends of God for the sake of the Divine grace which dwelt in them, in accor­dance with the words of the Psalm: “Most pre­cious to me are Thy fri­ends.” The Most Pure Mot­her of God was glo­ri­fied with spe­cial honor in hea­ven and on earth, and She, even in the days of the mock­ing of the holy Icons, mani­fe­sted through them so many won­drous mira­c­les that even today we remem­ber them with con­tri­tion. The hymn “In Thee All Cre­a­tion Rejoi­ces, 0 Thou Who Art Full of Grace,” and the Icon of the Three Hands remind us of the hea­ling of St. John Dama­s­cene before this Icon; the depi­ction of the Iveron Icon of the Mot­her of God reminds us of the mira­culous deli­ve­rance from ene­mies by this Icon, which had been thrown in the sea by a widow who was unable to save it.

No per­secu­tions against those who vene­ra­ted the Mot­her of God and all that is bound up with the memory of Her could les­sen the love of Chri­sti­ans for their Inter­ces­sor. The rule was establis­hed that every series of hymns in the Divine ser­vi­ces should end with a hymn or verse in honor of the Mot­her of God (the so-called “Theo­tokia”). Many times in the year Chri­sti­ans in all cor­ners of the world gat­her toget­her in church, as before they gat­he­red toget­her, to pra­ise Her, to thank Her for the bene­fa­ctions She has shown, and to beg mercy.

But could the adver­s­ary of Chri­sti­ans, the devil, who goeth about roa­ring like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8), remain an indif­fe­rent specta­tor to the glory of the Imma­cu­late One? Could he ack­now­ledge him­self as defe­a­ted, and cease to wage war­fare against the truth through men who do his will? And so, when all the uni­verse reso­un­ded with the good news of the Faith of Christ, when eve­rywhere the name of the Most Holy One was invo­ked, when the earth was fil­led with chur­ches, when the hou­ses of Chri­sti­ans were ador­ned with Icons depi­cting Her-then there appea­red and began to spread a new false tea­ching about the Mot­her of God. This false tea­ching is dan­gerous in that many can­not imme­di­a­tely under­stand to what degree it under­mi­nes the true vene­ra­tion of the Mot­her of God.

Zeal Not Accor­ding to Know­ledge (Romans 10:2)

The cor­rup­tion by the Lat­ins, in the newly inven­ted dogma of the “Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion, ” of the true vene­ra­tion of the Most Holy Mot­her of God and Ever– Vir­gin Mary.

WHEN THOSE WHO cen­su­red the imma­cu­late life of the Most Holy Vir­gin had been rebuked, as well as those who denied Her Ever­vir­gi­nity, those who denied Her dig­nity as the Mot­her of God, and those who dis­dai­ned Her icons-then, when the glory of the Mot­her of God had illu­mi­na­ted the whole uni­verse, there appea­red a tea­ching which see­m­ingly exal­ted hig­hly the Vir­gin Mary, but in rea­lity denied all Her virtues.

This tea­ching is cal­led that of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion of the Vir­gin Mary, and it was accep­ted by the fol­lowers of the Papal throne of Rome. The tea­ching is this– that “the All-blessed Vir­gin Mary in the first instant of Her Con­cep­tion, by the spe­cial grace of Almighty God and by a spe­cial pri­vil­ege, for the sake of the future merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was pre­ser­ved exempt from all stain of ori­gi­nal sin” (Bull of Pope Pius IX con­cer­ning the new dogma). In other words, the Mot­her of God at Her very con­cep­tion was pre­ser­ved from ori­gi­nal sin and, by the grace of God, was pla­ced in a state where it was impos­sible for Her to have per­so­nal sins.

Chri­sti­ans had not heard of this before the ninth cen­tury, when for the first time the Abbot of Cor­vey, Pas­cha­sius Rad­bertus, expres­sed the opi­nion that the Holy Vir­gin was con­cei­ved wit­hout ori­gi­nal sin. Begin­ning, from the 12th cen­tury, this idea begins to spread among the clergy and flock of the Western church, which had alre­ady fal­len away from the Uni­ver­sal Church and the­reby lost the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Howe­ver, by no means all of the mem­bers of the Roman church agreed with the new tea­ching. There was a dif­fe­rence of among the most renow­ned the­o­lo­gi­ans of the West, the pil­lars, so to speak, of the Latin church. Tho­mas Aqui­nas and Ber­nard of Clair­vaux deci­si­vely cen­su­red it, while Duns Sco­tus defen­ded it. From the tea­chers this divi­sion car­ried over to their discip­les: the Latin Domi­ni­can monks, after their tea­cher Tho­mas Aqui­nas, prea­ched against the tea­ching of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion, while the fol­lowers of Duns Sco­tus, the Fran­ci­scans, strove to implant it eve­rywhere. The battle between these two cur­rents con­ti­nued for the course of seve­ral cen­turies. Both on the one and on the other side there were those who were con­si­de­red among the Cat­ho­lics as the gre­a­test authorities.

There was no help in deci­ding the question in the fact that seve­ral people decla­red that they had had a reve­la­tion from above con­cer­ning it. The nun Brid­get [of Swe­den], renow­ned in the 14th cen­tury among the Cat­ho­lics, spoke in her wri­tings about the appea­ran­ces to her of the Mot­her of God, Who Her­self told her that She had been con­cei­ved imma­cu­la­tely, wit­hout ori­gi­nal sin. But her con­tem­porary, the yet more renow­ned asce­tic Cat­he­rine of Sienna, affir­med that in Her Con­cep­tion the Holy Vir­gin par­ti­ci­pa­ted in ori­gi­nal sin, con­cer­ning which she had recei­ved a reve­la­tion from Christ Him­self (See the book of Archpri­est A. Lebe­dev, Dif­fe­ren­ces in the Tea­ching on the Most Holy Mot­her of God in the Chur­ches of East and West)

Thus, neit­her on the foun­da­tion of the­o­lo­gi­cal wri­tings, nor on the foun­da­tion of mira­culous mani­fe­sta­tions which con­tra­di­cted each other, could the Latin flock distingu­ish for a long time where the truth was. Roman Popes until Sixtus IV (end of the 15th cen­tury) remai­ned apart from these dis­pu­tes, and only this Pope in 1475 appro­ved a ser­vice in which the tea­ching of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion was clearly expres­sed; and seve­ral years later he for­bade a con­dem­na­tion of those who belie­ved in the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion. Howe­ver, even Sixtus IV did not yet decide to affirm that such was the unwa­ve­ring tea­ching of the church; and there­fore, having for­bid­den the con­dem­na­tion of those who belie­ved in the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion, he also did not con­demn those who belie­ved otherwise.

Meanwhile, the tea­ching of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion obtai­ned more and more par­tisans among the mem­bers of the Roman church. The rea­son for this was the fact that it see­med more pious and plea­sing to the Mot­her of God to give Her as much glory as pos­sible. The stri­ving of the people to glo­rify the Hea­venly Inter­ces­sor, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the devi­a­tion of Western the­o­lo­gi­ans into abstract specu­la­tions which led only to a see­m­ing truth (Scho­la­sti­cism), and finally, the patro­nage of the Roman Popes after Sixtus IV-all this led to the fact that the opi­nion con­cer­ning the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion which had been expres­sed by Pas­cha­sius Rad­bertus in the 9th cen­tury was alre­ady the gene­ral belief of the Latin church in the 19th cen­tury. There remai­ned only to pro­claim this defi­ni­tely as the church’s tea­ching, which was done by the Roman Pope Pius IX during a solemn ser­vice on Decem­ber 8, 1854, when he decla­red that the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion of the Most Holy Vir­gin was a dogma of the Roman church. Thus the Roman church added yet ano­t­her devi­a­tion from the tea­ching which it had con­fes­sed while it was a mem­ber of the Cat­ho­lic, Apo­sto­lic Church, which faith has been held up to now unal­te­red and unchan­ged by the Ort­ho­dox Church. The pro­c­la­ma­tion of the new dogma satis­fied the broad mas­ses of people who belon­ged to the Roman church, who in sim­pli­city of heart thought that the pro­c­la­ma­tion of the new tea­ching in the church would serve for the gre­a­ter glory of the Mot­her of God, to Whom by this they were making a gift, as it were. There was also satis­fied the vaingl­ory of the Western the­o­lo­gi­ans who defen­ded and wor­ked it out. But most of all the pro­c­la­ma­tion of the new dogma was pro­fi­table for the Roman throne itself, since, having pro­clai­med the new dogma by his own aut­ho­rity, even though he did listen to the opi­ni­ons of the bis­hops of the Cat­ho­lic church, the Roman Pope by this very fact openly appro­p­ri­a­ted to him­self the right to change the tea­ching of the Roman church and pla­ced his own voice above the testi­mony of Sacred Scrip­ture and Tra­di­tion. A direct deduction from this was the fact that the Roman Popes were infal­lible in mat­ters of faith, which indeed this very same Pope Pius IX likewise pro­clai­med as a dogma of the Cat­ho­lic church in 1870.

Thus was the tea­ching of the Western church chan­ged after it had fal­len away from com­mu­nion with the True Church. It has intro­du­ced into itself newer and newer tea­chings, thin­king by this to glo­rify the Truth yet more, but in rea­lity distor­ting it. While the Ort­ho­dox Church hum­bly con­fes­ses what it has recei­ved from Christ and the Apost­les, the Roman church dares to add to it, some­ti­mes from zeal not accor­ding to know­ledge (cf. Rom. 10:2), and some­ti­mes by devi­at­ing into super­sti­tions and into the con­tra­di­ctions of know­ledge fal­sely so cal­led (I Tim. 6:20). It could not be otherwise. That the gates of hell shall not pre­vail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) is pro­mi­sed only to the True, Uni­ver­sal Church; but upon those who have fal­len away from it are ful­fil­led the words: As the branch can­not bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neit­her can ye, except ye abide in Me (John 15:4).

It is true that in the very defi­ni­tion of the new dogma it is said that a new tea­ching is not being establis­hed, but that there is only being pro­clai­med as the church’s that which always exi­sted in the church and which has been held by many Holy Fat­hers, excer­pts from whose wri­tings are cited. Howe­ver, all the cited refe­ren­ces speak only of the exal­ted san­ctity of the Vir­gin Mary and of Her imma­cu­la­te­ness, and give Her various names which define Her purity and spi­ri­tual might; but nowhere is there any word of the imma­cu­la­te­ness of Her con­cep­tion. Meanwhile, these same Holy Fat­hers in other pla­ces say that only Jesus Christ is com­ple­tely pure of every sin, while all men, being born of Adam, have borne a flesh sub­ject to the law of sin.

None of the anci­ent Holy Fat­hers say that God in mira­culous fas­hion puri­fied the Vir­gin Mary while yet in the womb; and many directly indi­cate that the Vir­gin Mary, just as all men, endu­red a battle with sin­ful­ness, but was victo­rious over temp­ta­tions and was saved by Her Divine Son.

Com­men­ta­tors of the Latin con­fes­sion likewise say that the Vir­gin Mary was saved by Christ. But they under­stand this in the sense that Mary was pre­ser­ved from the taint of ori­gi­nal sin in view of the future merits of Christ (Bull on the Dogma of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion). The Vir­gin Mary, accor­ding to their tea­ching, recei­ved in advance, as it were, the gift which Christ brought to men by His suf­fe­rings and death on the Cross. More­over, spe­aking of the torments of the Mot­her of God which She endu­red stan­ding at the Cross of Her Belo­ved Son, and in gene­ral of the sor­rows with which the life of the Mot­her of God was fil­led, they con­si­der them an addi­tion to the suf­fe­rings of Christ and con­si­der Mary to be our CoRe­demptress.

Accor­ding to the com­men­tary of the Latin the­o­lo­gi­ans, “Mary is an asso­ci­ate with our Rede­e­mer as Co-Redemptress” (see Lebe­dev, op. cit. p. 273). “In the act of Redemp­tion, She, in a certain way, hel­ped Christ” (Cate­chism of Dr. Wei­mar). “The Mot­her of God,” wri­tes Dr. Lentz, “bore the bur­den of Her mar­tyr­dom not merely cou­ra­geously, but also joy­fully, even though with a bro­ken heart” (Mari­o­logy of Dr. Lentz). For this rea­son, She is “a com­ple­ment of the Holy Tri­nity,” and “just as Her Son is the only Inter­me­di­ary cho­sen by God between His offen­ded majesty and sin­ful men, so also, pre­ci­sely, –the chief Medi­a­tress pla­ced by Him between His Son and us is the Bles­sed Vir­gin.” “In three respects-as Daugh­ter, as Mot­her, and as Spouse of God-the Holy Vir­gin is exal­ted to a certain equa­lity with the Fat­her, to a certain supe­ri­o­rity over the Son, to a certain near­ness to the Holy Spi­rit” (“The Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion,” Malou, Bis­hop of Brouges).

Thus, accor­ding to the tea­ching of the rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves of Latin the­o­logy, the Vir­gin Mary in the work of Redemp­tion is pla­ced side by side with Christ Him­self and is exal­ted to an equa­lity with God. One can­not go fart­her than this. If all this has not been defi­ni­ti­vely for­mu­la­ted as a dogma of the Roman church as yet, still the Roman Pope Pius IX, having made the first step in this direction, has shown the direction for the furt­her deve­l­op­ment of the gene­rally recog­nized tea­ching of his church, and has indi­rectly con­fir­med the above-cited tea­ching about the Vir­gin Mary.

Thus the Roman church, in its stri­vings to exalt the Most Holy Vir­gin, is going on the path of com­plete dei­fi­ca­tion of Her. And if even now its aut­ho­ri­ties call Mary a com­ple­ment of the Holy Tri­nity, one may soon expect that the Vir­gin will be reve­red like God. who are buil­ding a new the­o­lo­gi­cal system having as its foun­da­tion the phi­los­op­hi­cal tea­ching of Sop­hia, Wis­dom, as a spe­cial power bin­ding the Divi­nity and the cre­a­tion. Likewise deve­l­o­ping the tea­ching of the dig­nity of the Mot­her of God, they wish to see in Her an Essence which is some kind of mid-point between God and man. In some questions they are more mode­rate than the Latin the­o­lo­gi­ans, but in others, if you please, they have alre­ady left them behind. While denying the tea­ching of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion and the fre­edom from ori­gi­nal sin, they still teach Her full fre­edom from any per­so­nal sins, see­ing in Her an Inter­me­di­ary between men and God, like Christ: in the per­son of Christ there has appea­red on earth the Second Per­son of the Holy Tri­nity, the Pre-eternal Word, the Son of God; while the Holy Spi­rit is mani­fest through the Vir­gin Mary.

In the words of one of the rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves of this ten­dency, when the Holy Spi­rit came to dwell in the Vir­gin Mary, she acqui­red “a dya­dic life, human and divine; that is, She was com­ple­tely dei­fied, because in Her hypo­sta­tic being was mani­fest the living, cre­a­tive reve­la­tion of the Holy Spi­rit” (Archpri­est Ser­gei Bul­gakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). “She is a per­fect mani­fe­sta­tion of the Third Hypost­a­sis” (Ibid., p. 175), CC a cre­a­ture, but also no lon­ger a cre­a­ture” (P. 19 1). This stri­ving towards the dei­fi­ca­tion of the Mot­her of God is to be obser­ved pri­ma­rily in the West, where at the same time, on the other hand, various sects of a Pro­te­stant cha­ra­cter are having great suc­cess, toget­her with the chief bran­ches of Pro­te­stan­tism, Lut­he­ra­nism and Cal­vi­nism, which in gene­ral deny the vene­ra­tion of the Mot­her of God and the cal­ling upon Her in prayer.

But we can say with the words of St. Epip­ha­nius of Cyprus: “There is an equal harm in both these her­esies, both when men demean the Vir­gin and when, on the con­trary, they glo­rify Her bey­ond what is pro­per” (Pana­rion, “Against the Col­ly­ri­di­ans”). This Holy Fat­her accu­ses those who give Her an almost divine wors­hip: “Let Mary be in honor, but let wors­hip be given to the Lord” (same source). “Alt­hough Mary is a cho­sen ves­sel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distingu­is­hed at all from others. Alt­hough the history of Mary and Tra­di­tion relate that it was said to Her fat­her Joa­chim in the desert, ‘Thy wife hath con­cei­ved,’ still this was done not wit­hout mari­tal union and not wit­hout the seed of man” (same source). “One should not revere the saints above what is pro­per, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from hea­ven, but from the joi­ning of man and woman; and accor­ding to the pro­mise, like Isaac, She was pre­pa­red to take part in the Divine Eco­nomy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foo­lis­hly to offend the Holy Vir­gin” (St. Epip­ha­nius, “Against the Antidikomarionites”).

The Ort­ho­dox Church, hig­hly exal­ting the Mot­her of God in its hymns of pra­ise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been com­mu­ni­ca­ted about Her by Sacred Scrip­ture or Tra­di­tion. “Truth is foreign to all over­sta­te­ments as well as to all under­sta­te­ments. It gives to eve­ryt­hing a fit­ting mea­sure and fit­ting place” (Bis­hop Igna­tius Bri­an­cha­ni­nov). Glo­ri­fying the imma­cu­la­te­ness of the Vir­gin Mary and the man­ful bea­ring of sor­rows in Her eart­hly life, the Fat­hers of the Church, on the other hand, reject the idea that She was an inter­me­di­ary between God and men in the sense of the joint Redemp­tion by Them of the human race. Spe­aking of Her pre­pa­red­ness to die toget­her with Her Son and to suf­fer toget­her with Him for the sake of the salva­tion of all, the renow­ned Fat­her of the Western Church, Saint Ambrose, Bis­hop of Milan, adds: “But the suf­fe­rings of Christ did not need any help, as the Lord Him­self prop­he­sied con­cer­ning this long before: I loo­ked about, and there was none to help; I sought and there was none to give aid. there­fore My arm deli­ve­red them (Is. 63:5).” (St. Ambrose, “Con­cer­ning the Upbrin­ging of the Vir­gin and the Ever-Virginity of Holy Mary,” ch. 7).

This same Holy Fat­her tea­ches con­cer­ning the uni­ver­sa­lity of ori­gi­nal sin, from which Christ alone is an excep­tion. “Of all those born of women, there is not a single one who is per­fectly holy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in a spe­cial new way of imma­cu­late bir­t­h­gi­ving, did not expe­ri­ence eart­hly taint” (St. Ambrose, Com­men­tary on Luke, ch. 2). “God alone is wit­hout sin. All born in the usual man­ner of woman and man, that is, of fles­hly union, become guilty of sin. Con­sequently, He Who does not have sin was not con­cei­ved in this man­ner” (St. Ambrose, Ap. Aug. “Con­cer­ning Mar­ri­age and Con­cupi­s­cence”). “One Man alone, the Inter­me­di­ary between God and man, is free from the bonds of sin­ful birth, because He was born of a Vir­gin, and because in being born He did not expe­ri­ence the touch of sin” (St. Ambrose, ibid., Book 2: “Against Julianus”).

Ano­t­her renow­ned tea­cher of the Church, espe­ci­ally reve­red in the West, Bles­sed Augustine, wri­tes: “As for other men, exclu­ding Him Who is the cor­ner­stone, I do not see for them any other means to become temp­les of God and to be dwel­lings for God apart from spi­ri­tual rebirth, which must abso­lu­tely be pre­ce­ded by fles­hly birth. Thus, no mat­ter how much we might think about chil­dren who are in the womb of the mot­her, and even though the word of the holy Evan­ge­list who says of John the Bap­tist that he lea­ped for joy in the womb of his mot­her (which occur­red not otherwise than by the action of the Holy Spi­rit), or the word of the Lord Him­self spo­ken to Jere­miah: I have san­cti­fied thee before thou didst leave the womb of thy mot­her (Jer. 1:5)- no mat­ter how much these might or might not give us basis for thin­king that chil­dren in this con­di­tion are capable of a certain san­cti­fi­ca­tion, still in any case it can­not be doub­ted that the san­cti­fi­ca­tion by which all of us toget­her and each of us sepa­ra­tely become the temple of God is pos­sible only for those who are reborn, and rebirth always pre­sup­po­ses birth. Only those who have alre­ady been born can be uni­ted with Christ and be in union with this Divine Body which makes His Church the living temple of the majesty of God” (Bles­sed Augustine, Let­ter 187).

The above-cited words of the anci­ent tea­chers of the Church testify that in the West itself the tea­ching which is now spread there was ear­lier rejected there. Even after the fal­ling away of the Western church, Ber­nard, who is ack­now­led­ged there as a great aut­ho­rity, wrote, ” I am frigh­te­ned now, see­ing that certain of you have desi­red to change the con­di­tion of important mat­ters, intro­ducing a new festi­val unk­nown to the Church, unap­pro­ved by rea­son, unju­sti­fied by anci­ent tra­di­tion. Are we really more lear­ned and more pious than our fat­hers? You will say, ‘One must glo­rify the Mot­her of God as much as Pos­sible.’ This is true; but the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion given to the Queen of Hea­ven demands dis­cer­n­ment. This Royal Vir­gin does not have need of false glo­ri­fi­ca­tions, pos­ses­sing as She does true crowns of glory and signs of dig­nity. Glo­rify the purity of Her flesh and the san­ctity of Her life. Mar­vel at the abun­dance of the gifts of this Vir­gin; vene­rate Her Divine Son; exalt Her Who con­cei­ved wit­hout knowing con­cupi­s­cence and gave birth wit­hout knowing pain. But what does one yet need to add to these dig­ni­ties? People say that one must revere the con­cep­tion which pre­ce­ded the glo­rious birth-giving; for if the con­cep­tion had not pre­ce­ded, the birth-giving also would not have been glo­rious. But what would one say if any­one for the same rea­son should demand the same kind of vene­ra­tion of the fat­her and mot­her of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for Her grand­pa­rents and great-grandparents, to infi­nity. More­over, how can there not be sin in the place where there was con­cupi­s­cence? All the more, let one not say that the Holy Vir­gin was con­cei­ved of the Holy Spi­rit and not of man. I say deci­si­vely that the Holy Spi­rit des­cen­ded upon Her, but not that He came with Her.”

I say that the Vir­gin Mary could not be san­cti­fied before Her con­cep­tion, inas­much as She did not exist. if, all the more, She could not be san­cti­fied in the moment of Her con­cep­tion by rea­son of the sin which is inse­pa­rable from con­cep­tion, then it remains to believe that She was san­cti­fied after She was con­cei­ved in the womb of Her mot­her. This san­cti­fi­ca­tion, if it anni­hi­la­tes sin, makes holy Her birth, but not Her con­cep­tion. No one is given the right to be con­cei­ved in san­ctity; only the Lord Christ was con­cei­ved of the Holy Spi­rit, and He alone is holy from His very con­cep­tion. Exclu­ding Him, it is to all the des­cen­dants of Adam that must be refer­red that which one of them says of him­self, both out of a fee­ling of humi­lity and in ack­now­led­ge­ment of the truth: Behold I was con­cei­ved in iniqui­ties (Ps. 50:7). How can one demand that this con­cep­tion be holy, when it was not the work of the Holy Spi­rit, not to men­tion that it came from con­cupi­s­cence? The Holy Vir­gin, of course, rejects that glory which, evi­dently, glo­ri­fies sin. She can­not in any way justify a novelty inven­ted in spite of the tea­ching of the Church, a novelty which is the mot­her of impr­u­dence, the sister of unbe­lief, and the daugh­ter of ligh­t­min­de­d­ness” (Ber­nard, Epi­stle 174; cited, as were the refe­ren­ces from Bles­sed Augustine, from Lebe­dev). The above-cited words clearly reveal both the novelty and the absur­dity of the new dogma of the Roman church.

The tea­ching of the com­plete sin­les­sness of the Mot­her of God (1) does not cor­re­spond to Sacred Scrip­ture, where there is repe­a­tedly men­tio­ned the sin­les­sness of the One Medi­a­tor between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5); and in Him is no sin U John 3:5); Who did no sin, neit­her was guile found in His mouth (I Peter 2:22); One that hath been in all points temp­ted like as we are, yet wit­hout sin (Heb. 4:15); Him Who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf (II Cor. 5:2 1). But con­cer­ning the rest of men it is said, Who is pure of defile­ment? No one who has lived a single day of his life on earth (Job 14:4). God com­men­deth His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sin­ners, Christ died for us If, while we were ene­mies, we were recon­ci­led to God through the death of His Son, much more, being recon­ci­led, shall we be saved by His life (Rom. 5:8–10).


(2) This tea­ching con­tra­di­cts also Sacred Tra­di­tion, which is con­tai­ned in numerous Patri­stic wri­tings, where there is men­tio­ned the exal­ted san­ctity of the Vir­gin Mary from Her very birth, as well as Her cle­an­sing by the Holy Spi­rit at Her con­cep­tion of Christ, but not at Her own con­cep­tion by Anna. “There is none wit­hout stain before Thee, even though his life be but a day, save Thee alone, Jesus Christ our God, Who didst appear on earth wit­hout sin, and through Whom we all trust to obtain mercy and the remis­sion of sins” (St. Basil the Great, Third Prayer of Ves­pers of Pen­tecost). “But when Christ came through a pure, vir­gi­nal, unwed­ded, God-fearing, unde­fi­led Mot­her wit­hout wed­lock and wit­hout fat­her, and inas­much as it befit­ted Him to be born, He puri­fied the female nature, rejected the bit­ter Eve and overt­hrew the laws of the flesh” (St. Gre­gory the The­o­lo­gian, “In Pra­ise of Vir­gi­nity”). Howe­ver, even then, as Sts. Basil the Great and John Chryso­stom speak of this, She was not pla­ced in the state of being unable to sin, but con­ti­nued to take care for Her salva­tion and overcame all temp­ta­tions (St. John Chryso­stom, Com­men­tary on John, Homily 85; St. Basil the Great, Epi­stle 160).

(3) The tea­ching that the Mot­her of God was puri­fied before Her birth, so that from Her might be born the Pure Christ, is mea­ning­less; because if the Pure Christ could be born only if the Vir­gin might be born pure, it would be neces­sary that Her parents also should be pure of ori­gi­nal sin, and they again would have to be born of puri­fied parents, and going furt­her in this way, one would have to come to the con­clu­sion that Christ could not have become incar­nate unless all His ance­stors in the flesh, right up to Adam inclu­sive, had been puri­fied before­hand of ori­gi­nal sin. But then there would not have been any need for the very Incar­na­tion of Christ, since Christ came down to earth in order to anni­hi­late sin.

(4) The tea­ching that the Mot­her of God was pre­ser­ved from ori­gi­nal sin, as likewise the tea­ching that She was pre­ser­ved by God’s grace from per­so­nal sins, makes God unmerci­ful and unjust; because if God could pre­serve Mary from sin and purify Her before Her birth, then why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rat­her lea­ves them in sin? It fol­lows likewise that God saves men apart from their will, pre­de­ter­mi­ning certain ones before their birth to salvation.

(5) This tea­ching, which see­m­ingly has the aim of exal­ting the Mot­her of God, in rea­lity com­ple­tely denies all Her vir­tues. After all, if Mary, even in the womb of Her mot­her, when She could not even desire anyt­hing eit­her good or evil, was pre­ser­ved by God’s grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was pre­ser­ved from sin even after Her birth, then in what does Her merit con­sist? If She could have been pla­ced in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glo­rify Her? if She, wit­hout any effort, and wit­hout having any kind of impul­ses to sin, remai­ned pure, then why is She crow­ned more than eve­ry­one else? There is no victory wit­hout an adversary.

The righ­teo­us­ness and san­ctity of the Vir­gin Mary were mani­fe­sted in the fact that She, being “human with pas­sions like us,” so loved God and gave Her­self over to Him, that by Her purity She was exal­ted high above the rest of the human race. For this, having been forek­nown and fore­cho­sen, She was vou­chs­a­fed to be puri­fied by the Holy Spi­rit Who came upon Her, and to con­ceive of Him the very Saviour of the world. The tea­ching of the grace-given sin­les­sness of the Vir­gin Mary denies Her victory over temp­ta­tions; from a victor who is worthy to be crow­ned with crowns of glory, this makes Her a blind instru­ment of God’s Provi­dence.

It is not an exal­ta­tion and gre­a­ter glory, but a belitt­le­ment of Her, this “gift” which was given Her by Pope Pius IX and all the rest who think they can glo­rify the Mot­her of God by seeking out new truths. The Most Holy Mary has been so much glo­ri­fied by God Him­self, so exal­ted is Her life on earth and Her glory in hea­ven, that human inven­tions can­not add anyt­hing to Her honor and glory. That which people them­sel­ves invent only obscu­res Her Face from their eyes. Bret­hren, take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through phi­los­ophy and vain deceit, after the tra­di­tion of men, after the rudi­ments of the world, and not after Christ, wrote the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spi­rit (Col. 2:8).

Such a “vain deceit” is the tea­ching of the Imma­cu­late Con­cep­tion by Anna of the Vir­gin Mary, which at first sight exalts, but in actual fact belitt­les Her. Like every lie, it is a seed of the “fat­her of lies” (John 8:44), the devil, who has suc­ce­e­ded by it in

bla­sp­heme the Vir­gin Mary. Toget­her with it there should also be rejected all the other tea­chings which have come from it or are akin to it. The stri­ving to exalt the Most Holy Vir­gin to an equa­lity with Christ ascri­bing to Her mater­nal tor­tu­res at the Cross an equal sig­ni­fi­cance with the suf­fe­rings of Christ, so that the Rede­e­mer and “Co-Redemptress” suf­fe­red equally, accor­ding to the tea­ching of the Papists, or that “the human nature of the Mot­her of God in hea­ven toget­her with the God-Man Jesus jointly reveal the full image of man” (Archpri­est S. Bul­gakov, The Unburnt Bush, p. 141)-is likewise a vain deceit and a seduction of phi­los­ophy. In Christ Jesus there is neit­her male nor female (Gal. 3:28), and Christ has rede­e­med the whole human race; there­fore at His Resur­rection equally did “Adam dance for joy and Eve rejoice” (Sun­day Kon­takia of the First and Third Tones), and by His Ascen­sion did the Lord raise up the whole of human nature.

Likewise, that the Mot­her of God is a “com­ple­ment of the Holy Tri­nity” or a “fourth Hypost­a­sis”; that “the Son and the Mot­her are a reve­la­tion of the Fat­her through the Second and Third Hypost­a­ses”; that the Vir­gin Mary is “a cre­a­ture, but also no lon­ger a creature”-all this is the fruit of vain, false wis­dom which is not satis­fied with what the Church has held from the time of the Apost­les, but stri­ves to glo­rify the Holy Vir­gin more than God has glo­ri­fied Her.

Thus are the words of St. Epip­ha­nius of Cyprus ful­fil­led: “Certain sen­se­less ones in their opi­nion about the Holy Ever­Vir­gin have stri­ven and are stri­ving to put Her in place of God” (St. Epip­ha­nius, “Against the Anti­di­ko­ma­rio­ni­tes”). But that which is offe­red to the Vir­gin in sen­se­les­sness, instead of pra­ise of Her, turns out to be bla­sp­hemy; and the All-Immaculate One rejects the lie, being the Mot­her of Truth (John 14:6).

The Ort­ho­dox Vene­ra­tion of The Mot­her of God

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH tea­ches about the Mot­her of God that which Sacred Tra­di­tion and Sacred Scrip­ture have infor­med con­cer­ning Her, and daily it glo­ri­fies Her in its temp­les, asking Her help and defense. Knowing that She is plea­sed only by those pra­i­ses which cor­re­spond to Her actual glory, the Holy Fat­hers and hymn-writers have entre­a­ted Her and Her Son to teach them how to hymn Her. “Set a rampart about my mind, 0 my Christ, for I make bold to sing the pra­ise of Thy pure Mot­her” (Ikos of the Dor­mi­tion). “The Church tea­ches that Christ was truly born of Mary the Ever-Virgin” (St. Epip­ha­nius, “True Word Con­cer­ning the Faith”). “It is essen­tial for us to con­fess that the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary is actu­ally Theo­tokos (Birth-giver of God), so as not to fall into bla­sp­hemy. For those who deny that the Holy Vir­gin is actu­ally Theo­tokos are no lon­ger belie­vers, but discip­les of the Pha­ri­sees and Sad­du­cees” (St. Ephraim the Syrian,“To John the Monk”).

From Tra­di­tion it is known that Mary was the daugh­ter of the aged Joa­chim and Anna, and that Joa­chim des­cen­ded from the royal line of David, and Anna from the pri­estly line. Notwit­h­stan­ding such a noble ori­gin, they were poor. Howe­ver, it was not this that sad­de­ned these righ­teous ones, but rat­her the fact that they did not have chil­dren and could not hope that their des­cen­dants would see the Mes­siah. And behold, when once, being dis­dai­ned by the Hebrews for their bar­ren­ness, they both in grief of soul were offe­ring up pray­ers to God­Jo­a­chim on a moun­tain to which he had reti­red after the pri­est did not want to offer his sacri­fice in the Temple, and Anna in her own gar­den weeping over her barrenness-there appea­red to them an angel who infor­med them that they would bring forth a daugh­ter. Overjoyed, they pro­mi­sed to con­secrate their child to God.

In nine months a daugh­ter was born to them, cal­led Mary, Who from Her early child­hood mani­fe­sted the best qua­li­ties of soul. When She was three years old, her parents, ful­fil­ling their pro­mise, solemnly led the little Mary to the Temple of Jerus­a­lem; She Her­self ascen­ded the high steps and, by reve­la­tion from God, She was led into the very Holy of Holies, by the High Pri­est who met Her, taking with Her the grace of God which rested upon Her into the Temple which until then had been wit­hout grace. (See the Kon­takion of the Entry into the Temple. This was the newly-built Temple into which the glory of God had not des­cen­ded as it had upon the Ark or upon the Temple of Solo­mon.) She was sett­led in the quar­ters for vir­gins which exi­sted in the Temple, but She spent so much time in prayer in the Holy of Holies that one might say that She lived in it. (Ser­vice to the Entry, second sti­cheron on Lord, I have cried, and the “Glory, Both Now…”) Being ador­ned with all vir­tues, She mani­fe­sted an example of extra­or­di­na­rily pure life. Being sub­mis­sive and obe­di­ent to all, She offen­ded no one, said no crude word to any­one, was fri­endly to all, and did not allow any unclean thought. (Abrid­ged from St. Ambrose of Milan, “Con­cer­ning the Ever-Virginity of the Vir­gin Mary.”)

Despite the righ­teo­us­ness and the imma­cu­la­te­ness of the life which the Mot­her of God led, mani­fe­sted their pre­sence in Her. They could not but be mani­fe­sted: Such is the pre­cise and fait­h­ful tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Church con­cer­ning the Mot­her of God with rela­tion to ori­gi­nal sin and death.” (Bis­hop Igna­tius Bri­an­cha­ni­nov, “Expo­si­tion of the Tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Church on the Mot­her of God.”) “A stran­ger to any fall into sin” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Com­men­tary on the I I 8th Psalm), “She was not a stran­ger to sin­ful temp­ta­tions.” “God alone is wit­hout sin” (St. Ambrose, same source), “while man will always have in him­self somet­hing yet nee­ding cor­rection and per­fection in order to ful­fill the com­mand­ment of God; Be ye holy as I the Lord your God am Holy (Levi­ti­cus 19:2). The more pure and per­fect one is, the more he noti­ces his imper­fections and con­si­ders him­self all the more unworthy.

The Vir­gin Mary, having given Her­self enti­rely up to God, even though She repul­sed from Her­self every impulse to sin, still felt the weak­ness of human nature more power­fully than others and ardently desi­red the com­ing of the Saviour. In Her humi­lity She con­si­de­red Her­self unworthy to be even the servant-girl of the Vir­gin Who was to give Him birth. So that not­hing might distract Her from prayer and heed­ful­ness to Her­self, Mary gave to God a vow not to become mar­ried, in order to please only Him Her whole life long. Being betro­t­hed to the elderly Joseph when Her age no lon­ger, allowed Her to remain in the Temple, She sett­led in his house in Naza­reth. Here the Vir­gin was vou­chs­a­fed the com­ing of the Archan­gel Gabriel, who brought Her the good tidings of the birth, from Her of the Son of the Most High. Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Bles­sed art thou among women … The Holy Spi­rit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overs­ha­dow thee. where­fore also that which is to be born shall be holy, and shall be cal­led the Son of God (Luke 1:28–35).Mary recei­ved the ange­lic good tidings hum­bly and sub­mis­si­vely. “Then the Word, in a way known to Him­self, des­cen­ded and, as He Him­self wil­led, came and ente­red into Mary and abode in Her” (St. Ephraim the Syrian, “Pra­ise of the Mot­her of God”). “As ligh­t­ning illu­mi­na­tes what is hid­den, so also Christ puri­fies what is hid­den in the nature of things. He puri­fied the Vir­gin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is mani­fest purity in all its power. He puri­fied the Vir­gin, having pre­pa­red Her by the Holy Spi­rit, and then the womb, having become pure, con­cei­ved Him. He puri­fied the Vir­gin while She was invi­o­late; where­fore, having been born, He left Her vir­gin. I do not say that Mary became immor­tal, but that being illu­mi­na­ted by grace, She was not dis­tur­bed by sin­ful desi­res” (St. Ephraim the Syrian, Homily Against Her­e­tics, 41). “The Light abode in Her, cle­an­sed Her mind, made Her thoughts pure, made cha­ste Her con­cerns, san­cti­fied Her vir­gi­nity” (St. Ephraim the Syrian, “Mary and Eve”). “One who was pure accor­ding to human under­stan­ding, He made pure by grace” (Bis­hop Igna­tius Bri­an­cha­ni­nov, “Expo­si­tion of the Tea­ching of the Ort­ho­dox Church on the Mot­her of God”).

Mary told no one of the appea­rance of the angel, but the angel him­self reve­a­led to Joseph con­cer­ning Mary’s mira­culous con­cep­tion from the Holy Spi­rit (Matt. 1: 18–25); and after the Nati­vity of Christ, with a mul­ti­tude of the hea­venly host, he anno­un­ced it to the shep­herds. The shep­herds, com­ing to wors­hip the new-born one, said that they had heard of Him. Having pre­viously endu­red suspi­cion in silence, Mary now also liste­ned in silence and kept in Her heart the sayings con­cer­ning the gre­at­ness of Her Son (Luke 2:8–19). She heard forty days later Symeon’s prayer of pra­ise and the prop­hecy con­cer­ning the wea­pon which would pierce Her soul. Later She saw how Jesus advan­ced in wis­dom; She heard Him at the age of twelve tea­ching in the Temple, and eve­ryt­hing She kept in Her heart (Luke 2:21–5 1). Even though full of grace, She did not yet fully under­stand in what the ser­vice and the gre­at­ness of Her Son would con­sist The Hebrew con­cep­tions of the Mes­siah were still close to Her, and natu­ral fee­lings for­ced Her to be con­cer­ned for Him, pre­ser­ving Him from labors and dan­gers which it might seem, were exces­sive. There­fore She favored Her Son invo­lun­ta­rily at first, which evo­ked His indi­ca­tion of the supe­ri­o­rity of spi­ri­tual to bodily kins­hip (Matt. 12:46–49). “He had con­cern also over the honor of His Mot­her, but much more over the salva­tion of Her soul and the good of men, for which He had become clo­t­hed in the flesh” (St. John Chryso­stom, Com­men­tary on John, Homily 2 1). Mary under­stood this and heard the word of God and kept it (Luke 11:27, 28). As no other per­son) She had the same fee­lings as Christ (Phil. 2:5), unmur­muringly bea­ring the grief of a mot­her when She saw Her Son per­secu­ted and suf­fe­ring. Rejoi­cing in the day of the Resur­rection, on the day of Pen­tecost She was clo­t­hed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spi­rit Who des­cen­ded upon Her taught (Her) all things (John 14:26), and instructed (Her) in all truth (John 16:13). Being enligh­te­ned, She began to labor all the more zea­lously to per­form what She had heard from Her Son and Rede­e­mer, so as to ascend to Him and to be with Him.

The end of the eart­hly life of the Most Holy Mot­her of God was the begin­ning of Her gre­at­ness. “Being ador­ned with Divine glory” (Irmos of the Canon of the Dor­mi­tion), She stands and will stand, both in the day of the Last Jud­g­ment and in the future age, at the right hand of the throne of Her Son. She reigns with Him and has bold­ness towards Him as His Mot­her accor­ding to the flesh, and as one in spi­rit with Him, as one who per­for­med the will of God and instructed others (Matt. 5:19). Merci­ful and full of love, She mani­fests Her love towards Her Son and God in love for the human race. She inter­ce­des for it before the Merci­ful One, and going about the earth, She helps men. Having expe­ri­en­ced all the dif­fi­cul­ties of eart­hly life, the Inter­ces­sor of the Chri­stian race sees every tear, hears every groan and entre­aty directed to Her. Espe­ci­ally near to Her are those who labor in the battle with the pas­sions and are zea­lous for a God-pleasing life. But even in wor­ldly cares She is an irre­pla­ceable hel­per. “Joy of all who sor­row and inter­ces­sor for the offen­ded, fee­der of the hungry, con­so­la­tion of tra­vel­lers, har­bor of the storm-tossed, visi­ta­tion of the sick, pro­tection and inter­ces­sor for the infirm, staff of old age, Thou art the Mot­her of God on high, O Most Pure One” (Sti­cheron of the Ser­vice to the Hodi­gi­tria). “The hope and inter­ces­sion and refuge of Chri­sti­ans,” “The Mot­her of God uncea­sing in pray­ers” (Kon­takion of Dor­mi­tion), “saving the world by Thine uncea­sing prayer” (Theo­tokion of the Third Tone). “She day and night doth pray for us, and the scep­ters of king­doms are con­fir­med by Her pray­ers” (daily Nocturne).

There is no intel­lect or words to express the gre­at­ness of Her Who was born in the sin­ful human race but became “more honorable than the Cheru­bim and bey­ond com­pare more glo­rious than the Serap­him.” “See­ing the grace of the secret myste­ries of God made mani­fest and clearly ful­fil­led in the Vir­gin, I rejoice; and I know not how to under­stand the strange and secret man­ner whe­reby the Unde­fi­led has been reve­a­led as alone cho­sen above all cre­a­tion, visible and spi­ri­tual. There­fore, wis­hing to pra­ise Her, I am struck dumb with ama­ze­ment in both mind and spe­ech. Yet still I dare to pro­claim and mag­nify Her: She is indeed the hea­venly Taber­na­cle” (Ikos of the Entry into the Temple). “Every tongue is at a loss to pra­ise Thee as is due; even a spi­rit from the world above is fil­led with dizzi­ness, when it seeks to sing Thy pra­i­ses, 0 Theo­tokos. But since Thou art good, accept our faith. Thou knowest well our love inspi­red by God, for Thou art the Pro­tector of Chri­sti­ans, and we mag­nify Thee” (Irmos of the 9th Can­ti­cle, Ser­vice of the Theophany).