The Ever-Virgin and Mother of God

Greatmartyr George the New at Sofia, Bulgaria

Beloved brothers and sisters,

Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the Only Sinless One. We venerate Your Cross, O Christ, and Your Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify; for Your are Our God, we know no other; it is Your Name we invoke.

Come, all you faithful, let us worship Christ's Resurrection; for behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection. For in enduring the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.


by Archpriest George Florovsky (Russian Orthodox Theologian)

The Teaching about Virgin Mary.

The whole dogmatic teaching about our Lady can be condensed into these two names of hers: the Mother of God (Theotokos) and the Ever-Virgin (aiparthenos). Both names have the formal authority of the Church Universal, an ecumenical authority indeed. The Virgin Birth is plainly attested in the New Testament and has been an integral part of the Catholic tradition ever since. "Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary (or "Born of the Virgin Mary") is a credal phrase. It is not merely a statement of the historical fact. It is precisely a credal statement, a solemn profession of faith. The term "Ever-Virgin" was formally endorsed by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553AD). And Theotokos is more than a name or an honorific title. It is rather a doctrinal definition in one word. It has been a touchstone of the true faith and a distinctive mark of Orthodoxy even before the Council of Ephesus (432AD). 

Already Saint Gregory of Nazianzus warns Cledonius "if one does not acknowledge Mary as Theotokos, he is estranged from God" (Epistle 101). As a matter of fact, the name was widely used by the holy Fathers of the 4th century and possibly even, in the 3rd. It was already traditional when it was contested and repudiated by Nestorius and his group. The word does not occur in Holy Scripture, just as the term omoousios (consubstantial) does not occur. But surely, neither at Nicaea nor at Ephesus was the Church innovating or imposing a new article of faith. An "unscriptural" word was chosen and used, precisely to voice and to safeguard the traditional belief and common conviction of ages. It is true, of course, that the Third Ecumenical Council was concerned primarily with the Christological dogma and did not formulate any special Mariological doctrine.

But precisely for that very reason it was truly remarkable that a Mariological term should have been selected and put forward as the ultimate test of Christological orthodoxy, to be used, as it were, as a doctrinal shibboleth in the Christological discussion. It was really a key-word to the whole of Christology. "This name", says Saint John of Damascus, "contains the whole mystery of the Incarnation." The motive and the purpose of such a choice is obvious. The Christological doctrine can never be accurately and adequately stated unless a very definite teaching about the Mother of Christ has been included. In fact, all the Mariological doubts and errors of modern times depend in the last resort precisely upon an utter Christological confusion. They reveal a hopeless "conflict in Christology."

There is no room for the Mother of God in a "reduced Christology." Protestant theologians simply have nothing to say about her. Yet to ignore the Mother means to misinterpret the Son. On the other hand, the person of the Blessed Virgin can be properly understood and rightly described only in a Christological setting and context. Mariology is to be but a chapter in the treatise on the Incarnation, never to be extended into an independent "treatise." Not, of course, an optional or occasional chapter, not an appendix. It belongs to the very body of doctrine. The Mystery of the Incarnation includes the Mother of the Incarnate. Sometimes, however, this Christological perspective has been obscured by a devotional exaggeration, by an unbalanced pietism. Piety must always be guided and checked by dogma.

The nature of Christ

The name Theotokos stresses the fact that the Child whom Mary bore was not a "simple man," not a human person, but the Only-Begotten Son of God, "One of the Holy Trinity", yet Incarnate. This is obviously the corner-stone of the Orthodox faith...There is but one Son: The One born of the Virgin Mary is in the fullest possible sense the Son of God. As Saint John of Damascus says, the Holy Virgin did not bear "a common man, but the True God," yet "not naked, but Incarnate." The same, who from all eternity is born of the Father, "in these last days" was born of the Virgin, "without change". There is here no confusion of natures. No new person came into being when the Son of Mary was conceived and born, but the eternal Son of God was made man. This constitutes the mystery of the Divine Motherhood of the Virgin Mary. For indeed motherhood is a personal relationship, a relationship between persons. Now, the Son of Mary was in very truth a divine person. The name Theotokos is an inevitable sequel to the name Theanthropos, the God-Man stand all together.

The Unique relationship

Mary was the true mother of her Child--the truth of her human maternity is of no less relevance and importance than the mystery of her divine motherhood. But the Child was divine. Yet the spiritual implications of her motherhood could not be diminished by the exceptional character of the case, nor could Jesus fail to be truly human in His filial response to the motherly affection of the one of whom he was born. This is not a vain speculation. It would be impertinent indeed to intrude upon the sacred field of this unparalleled intimacy between the Mother and the Divine Child. But it would be even more impertinent to ignore the mystery. In any case, it would have been a very impoverished idea if we regarded the Virgin Mother merely as a physical instrument of our Lord's taking flesh. Moreover, such a misinterpretation is formally excluded by the explicit teaching of the Church, attested from the earliest date: She was not just a "channel" through which the Heavenly Lord has come, but truly the Mother of whom He took His humanity. Saint John of Damascus precisely in these very words summarizes the Catholic teaching: He did not come "as through a pipe," but has assumed of her (eks aytis), a human nature consubstantial to ours…

It is not so much a heavenly reward for her purity and virtue, as an "implication" of her sublime office, of her being the Mother of God, the Theotokos. The Church Triumphant is above all the worshipping Church, her existence is a living participation in Christ's office of intercession and his redeeming love. Incorporation into Christ, which is the essence of the Church and of the whole Christian existence, is first of all an incorporation into His sacrificial love for mankind. And here is a special place for her who is united with the Redeemer in the unique intimacy of motherly affection and devotion. The Mother of God is truly the common mother of all living, of the whole Christian race, born or reborn in the spirit and truth. An affectionate identification with the child, which is the spiritual essence of motherhood, is here consummated in its ultimate perfection.

The Church invites the faithful and helps them to grow spiritually into these mysteries of faith which are as well the mysteries of their own existence and spiritual destiny. In the Church they learn to contemplate and to adore the Living Christ together with the whole assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23). And in this glorious assembly they discern the eminent person of the Virgin Mother of the Lord and Redeemer, full of grace and love, of charity and compassion--"more honorable than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim, who without spot didst bear the Eternal Word." In the light of this contemplation and in the spirit of faith the theologian must fulfill his office of interpreting to believers and to those who seek the truth the overwhelming mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery is still symbolized, as it was in the age of the holy Fathers, by a single and glorious name: Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God Incarnate.

[Please note: "The beliefs, doctrine and dogma of the Orthodox Church are in direct continuity with the doctrine of the Holy Bible and the uninterrupted tradition of the Church of which the Holy Bible is the authoritative exponent. The Orthodox Church may rightly glory in its history, as being a "historical" Church, of which the history has no innovations to present, but rather an absolute faithfulness to the basic Christian message as preserved in the Holy Bible.

All dogmas of the Church are "Biblical", i.e., based on the Holy Bible. The dogmas of the Church are nothing else but an authoritative presentation of the revealed doctrine, both for didactic and also apologetical purposes. Heresy was one of the reasons why the Church established and enunciated its doctrine in a very clear and unequivocal way. However, the dogmas decreed by the Councils that opposed heresy are not the only ones promulgated and taught by the Church. The doctrinal system of the Church contains both these dogmas and all the other doctrines that the Church always proclaimed as being part of the message of salvation that she addresses to the world.

The Triune God, the doctrine of creation of Angels and man, man's fall, the divine plan of salvation, Christ's person and work, the Church, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, the Sacraments, and Orthodox eschatology (the "last things") are some of the points of doctrine." (His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos)]

With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God 

+Father George