Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE BRIEF COMPLINE (APOTHEIPNOS)
PRAYER TO THE EVER-VIRGIN MARY
O spotless, undefiled, incorruptible, chaste and pure Virgin-Bride of God, who by Your wondrous conception united God the Logos with man, and joined our fallen nature with the Heavens; the only hope of the hopeless, and the help of the persecuted, the ever-ready to rescue all that flee unto You, and the refuge of all Christians, spurn me not, the branded sinner, who by shameful thoughts, words and deeds, has made my whole being useless, and through indolence has enslaved my judgment to the pleasures of this life. But as the Mother of the Merciful God, mercifully show compassion unto me, the sinner and prodigal from impure lips unto You.
With Your maternal approach entreat Your Son, our Lord, and master to open for me the merciful depths of His loving kindness; and overlooking my countless transgressions, guide me to repentance, and show me forth as a worthy worker of His Commandments. As You are merciful, compassionate and gentle, be at my side; and in this present life, be my fervent Protectress and helper, thwarting the assaults of the adversaries, and leading me to salvation; and the hour of my passing take care of my wretched soul, and cast far away the dark faces of the demons. And at the dreadful Day of Judgment, deliver me from eternal punishment, and prove me an heir to the ineffable Glory of Your Son, and our God.
May this glory be my share, O my Lady, Most Holy Theotokos through Your mediation and help, by the Grace and mercy of Your Only-Begotten Son our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ; to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His Eternal Father, and His All-Holy and Good and Life-Giving Spirit now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
THE CHURCH'S BATTLE WITH ERRORS CONCERNING THE DIVINITY AND HUMANITY OF JESUS CHRIST
The Church has always strictly guarded the correct teaching of the two natures of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeing in this an indispensable condition of faith, without which salvation is impossible.
The errors with regard to this teaching have been various, but they may be reduced to two groups: In one, we see the denial or lessening of the Divinity of Jesus Christ; in the other we see a denial or lessening of His humanity.
The spirit of the Jewish disbelief in the Divinity of Christ, the denial of His Divinity, was reflected in the Apostolic age in the heresy of Ebion, from whom these heretics received the name of Ebionites. A similar teaching was spread in the 3rd century by Paul of Samosata, who was denounced by two councils of Antioch. Slightly different was the false teaching of Arius and the various Arian currents in the 4th century. They thought that Christ was not a simple man, but the Son of God, created rather than begotten, and the most perfect of all the created spirits. The heresy of Arius was condemned at the First Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D., and Arianism was refuted in detail by the most renowned Fathers of the Church during the course of the 4th and 5th centuries.
In the 5th century there arose the heresy of Theodore of Mopsuestia, which was supported by Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople. Those who held this heresy acknowledged the Lord Jesus Christ to be only the "bearer" of the Divine principle, and therefore they ascribed to the Most Holy Virgin the title of Christotokos but not Theotokos--"Birthgiver of Christ," but not "Birthgiver of God." Nestorius and Nestorianism was accused and condemned by the Third Ecumenical Council (431 A.D.).
THE DOGMAS CONCERNING THE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
Two dogmas concerning the Mother of God are bound up, in closest fashion, with the dogma of God the Word's becoming man. They are (a) her Ever-Virginity, and (b) her name of Theotokos. They proceed immediately from the dogma of the unity of the Hypostasis of the Lord from the moment of His Incarnation--the Divine Hypostasis.
A. The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God
The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ from a virgin is testified to directly and deliberately by two Evangelists, Matthew and Luke. This dogma was entered into the Symbol of Faith (The Creed) of the First Ecumenical Council, where we read: "Who for the sake of us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was Incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man." The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God is testified by her own words, handed down in the Gospel, where she expressed awareness of the immeasurable majesty and height of her chosenness: "My soul doth magnify the Lord…For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed…For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name" (St. Luke 1:46-49).
The Most Holy Virgin preserved in her memory and in her heart both the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel and the inspired words of the righteous Elizabeth when she was visited by Mary: "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (St. Luke 1:43); both the prophecy of the righteous Symeon on meeting the Infant Jesus in the Temple, and the prophecy of the righteous Anna on the same day (St. Luke 2:25-38). In connection with the account of the shepherds of Bethlehem concerning the words of the Angels to them, and of the singing of the Angels, the Evangelist adds: "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" (St. Luke 2:19). The same Evangelist, having told of the conversation of the Most Holy Mother with the twelve-year old Jesus after their visit to Jerusalem on the Feast of Pascha (Passover), end his account with the words: "But His Mother kept all these sayings in her heart" (St. Luke 2:51). The Evangelists speak also of the understanding of the majesty of her service in the world by the righteous Joseph, her espoused husband, whose actions were many times guided by an Angel.
When the heretics and simple blasphemers refuse to acknowledge the Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God on the grounds that the Evangelists mention the "brothers and sisters of Jesus," they are refuted by the following facts from the Gospel:
(a) In the Gospels there are named four "brothers" (James, Joses, Simon and Jude), and there are also mentioned the "sisters" of Jesus--no fewer than three, as is evident in the words: "and His sisters are they not all with us?" (St. Matthew 13:56).
On the other hand, (b) in the account of the journey to Jerusalem of the twelve-year old Jesus, where there is mention of the "kinsfolk and acquaintances" (St. Luke 2:44) in the midst of whom they were seeking Jesus, and where it is likewise mentioned that Mary and Joseph every year journeyed from faraway Galilee to Jerusalem, no reason is given to think that there were present other young children with Mary: it was thus that the first twelve years of the Lord's earthly life proceeded.
c) When, about twenty years after the above-mentioned journey, Mary stood at the Cross of the Lord, she was alone, and she was entrusted by her Divine Son to His Disciple John; and "from that hour that Disciple took her unto his own home " (St. John 19:27). Evidently, as the ancient Christians also understood it, the Evangelists speak either of "half" brothers and sisters or of cousins.
B. The Most Holy Virgin Mary is Theotokos
With the dogma of the Son of God's becoming man is closely bound up the naming of the Most Holy Virgin Mary as Theotokos (Birth-Giver of God). By this name the Church confirms its faith that God the Word became man truly and not merely in appearance; a faith that, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God was joined to man from the very instant of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and that He, being perfect man, is also perfect God.
At the same time the name of Theotokos is the highest name that exalts or glorifies the Virgin Mary.
The name "Theotokos" has a direct foundation in Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul writes:
a) "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). Here is expressed the truth that a woman gave birth to the Son of God.
b) "God was manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 3:16): The flesh was woven for God the Word (Logos) by the Most Holy Virgin Mary.
At the meeting of the Virgin Mary, after the Annunciation with the righteous Elizabeth, "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spoke out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?...And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord" (St. Luke 1:41-45). Thus Elizabeth, being filled with the Holy Spirit, calls Mary the Mother of the Lord, the God of Heaven; it is precisely the God of Heaven that she is here calling "Lord", as is clear from her further words: "She that believed...those things which were told her from the Lord"--the Lord God.
Concerning the birth of God "from a virgin" the Old Testament Scriptures speak:
The Prophet Ezekiel writes of his vision: "Then said the Lord unto me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut" (Ezek. 44:2).
The Prophet Isaiah prophesies: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel, which is to say: God is with us...For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Messenger of Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Potentate, the Prince of Peace, Father of the age to come" (Is. 7:14, 9:6, Septuagint; St. Matthew 1:23).
In the first centuries of the Church of Christ, the truth of God the Word's becoming man and His birth of the Virgin Mary was the catholic faith. Therefore, the Apostolic Fathers expressed themselves thus: "Our God Jesus Christ was in the womb of Mary"; "God took flesh of the Virgin Mary" (St. Ignatius the god-bearer, St. Irenaeus). Exactly the same expressions were used by Sts. Dionysius and Alexander of Alexandria (3rd and 4th centuries). The holy Fathers of the 4th century, Sts. Athanasius, Ephraim the Syrian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gregory of Nyssa, called the Most Holy Virgin the Theotokos.
The Proclamation by the Roman Church of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and Dogma of the Bodily Assumption of the Mother of God
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by a Bull of Pope Pius IX in 1854. The definition of this dogma says that the Most Holy Virgin Mary at the moment of her conception was cleansed of ancestral sin. In essence this is a direct deduction from the Roman teaching on the original sin. According to the Roman teaching, the burden of the sin of our first ancestors consists in the removal from mankind of a supernatural gift of grace. But here there arose a theological question: if mankind had been deprived of the gifts of grace, then how is one to understand the words of the Archangel addressed to Mary: "Rejoice, thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with thee…blessed art thou among women...Thou has found Grace with God" (St. Luke 1:28, 30)? One could only conclude that the Most Holy Virgin Mary had been removed from the general law of the "deprivation of grace" and of the guilt of the sin of Adam. And since her life was holy from her birth, consequently she received, in the form of an exception, a supernatural "gift", a grace of sanctity, even before her birth, that is, at her conception. Such a deduction was made by the Latin theologians. They called this removal "a privilege" of the Mother of God. One must note that the acknowledgment of this dogma was preceded in the West by a long period of theological dispute, which lasted from the 12th century, when this teaching appeared, until the 17th century, when it was spread by Jesuits in the Roman Catholic world.
In 1950, the so-called Jubilee Year, the Roman Pope Pius XII triumphantly proclaimed a second dogma, the dogma of the assumption of the Mother of God with her body into Heaven. Dogmatically this teaching was deduced in Roman theology from the Roman dogma of the Immaculate Conception and is a further logical deduction from the Roman teaching on original sin. If the Mother of God was removed from the general law of original sin, this means that she was given from her very conception supernatural gifts: righteousness and immortality, such as our first ancestors had before their fall into sin, and she should not have been subject to the law of bodily death. Therefore, if the Mother of God died, then, in the view of the Roman theologians, she accepted death voluntarily so as to emulate her Son; but death had no dominion over her.
The Orthodox Church does not accept the Latin system of arguments concerning original sin. In particular, the Orthodox Church, confessing the perfect personal immaculateness and perfect sanctity of the Mother of God, whom the Lord Jesus Christ by His birth from her made her to be more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim does not see any grounds for the establishment of the dogma of the immaculate conception in the sense of the Roman Catholic interpretation.
(source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God