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).