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).