My beloved spiritual children 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.
Apolytikion(Dismissal) Hymn of the Entry into the Temple (Presentation) of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Fourth Tone
Today is the prelude of God's good will and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, then, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O Thou fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.
Kontakion Hymn of the Feast. Fourth Tone
The Sacred Treasury of God's Holy Glory, the greatly precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the Savior's Most Pure Temple, free of stain and undefiled, into the House of the Lord on this day is brought forward and bringeth with herself and the grace of the Most Divine Spirit; her do we God's Angels hymn with songs of praise, for she is truly the Heavenly Tabernacle.
WHAT ABOUT MARY
By Fr. Charles Bell, Ph.D (Source: Discovering The Rich Heritage Of Orthodoxy)
"I will never believe that. I know too much!" As soon as I uttered the words I wished I could have them back. We were talking about the "ever-virginity" of Mary. Without the slightest annoyance Fr. Jon replied, "None of us can know too much." I tried to explain that I wasn't making claims to great breadth of knowledge, but rather was referring to the specific facts that I thought I knew. I meant what I said, but at the same time I had the uneasy feeling I didn't know what I was saying. Fr. Jon suggested that the next time we met he would give me some materials on the subject that I could take to study.
Not willing to postpone the study for another week, or another day, I raced back to my office and took from my library everything I could find dealing with the subject of Mary. I was certain that Calvin, writing in the heat of the Reformation conflict with Rome, would be my strongest ally. What a shock to discover that not only did Calvin believe in the ever-virginity of Mary, but he strongly criticized those who called the belief into question. With a sigh I took my Bible, some commentaries, and my Greek lexicon, and settled in to an intensive study of the subject, first the Biblical material, then the historical material.
Without question the most frequent objection made by evangelicals against the Orthodox Church has to do with the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus. "Don't they worship Mary?" "Don't they pray to her?" "Don't they believe in the 'immaculate Conception' of Mary (i.e. that she was conceived without the stain of original sin)?
Of course no evangelical could or would accept such teachings. I soon discovered, neither are these teachings accepted by the Orthodox. We evangelical Christians are true to our Puritan forebears who rejected and reacted against the Roman Catholic cult of Mary. In the popular piety of many Catholics, as well as in the official teaching of the Catholic Church, a cult of Mary developed in which she was viewed as the co-mediatrix of our salvation (a view which was somewhat corrected during Vatican II). Eventually, the teachings of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and of the Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven were declared to be dogma, that is, necessary to be believed in order to be saved.
Understandably, evangelicals rejected such non-biblical teaching, but then, so did the Orthodox. As a result of reacting against such doctrine, Mary has found no place within the Evangelical churches other than the Christmas nativity scene. While this reaction represents the polar opposite position of the Roman Church. I have come to see that both positions share this in common: neither reflects a biblical understanding of and an appropriate response to the person of Mary.
THE BLESSED VIRGIN
We know from both Matthew's and Luke's gospels that Mary was a virgin engaged to be married to Joseph when she learned that she was pregnant. The gospel accounts tell us that this child was "by the Holy Spirit." According to Luke, it was the Angel Gabriel who announced to Mary this great news. In coming to her he said, "Hail, blessed one (or favored one), the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28).
When Mary visited her relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, "the baby leaped in her (Elizabeth's) womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" at the sound of Mary's greeting. (Lk. 1:41). Then Elizabeth cried out "Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"..."And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk. 1:42, 45). Then under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Mary declared that "from this time on all generations will call be blessed" (Lk. 1:48).
Amazingly Mary conceived a child while a virgin, and was still a virgin after giving birth to the child? This was truly something "by the Spirit." Mary was most certainly blessed by God, and through her we too are blessed. "Happy Mary, to have embraced in her heart the promise of God, to have conceived and brought into the world for herself and for all--salvation" (Calvin, Tracts and Treatises, vol. I. p. 33).
Clearly evangelicals fall short of doing justice to these biblical texts. Few if any evangelicals call Mary 'blessed'. If Catholics can be faulted, and rightly so, for in times past too highly esteeming Mary, evangelicals are even now guilty of giving little or no honor to the one who is the mother of our Lord and is indeed blessed. If we are to be true to scripture, then we will gladly speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Calvin states, "Yet she deserves to be called blessed, for God has accorded her a singular distinction, to prepare His son for the world, in whom she was spiritually reborn. To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honor to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of His only-begotten Son" (NT Commentaries, vol I, p.32).
Calvin goes to write, "But she is called blessed, for by faith she received the blessing offered her, and opened the way to God to fulfill His work. And by contrast unbelief shuts that door upon Him, and holds Him back from His work, that those who deprive her great name of its credit, may not know her as the bearer of salvation" (ibid, p.34).
THE EVER-VIRGIN MARY
If we evangelicals can grant, as we should, that Mary is the Blessed Virgin, how are we to respond to claim to refute since the Bible speaks of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus. Once again we need to examine more closely the biblical evidence.
Matthew tells us that Joseph "did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son" (1:24, 25). The insertion of the word "until" would seem to imply that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she and Joseph enjoyed the full and natural blessings of married life. Confirmation of this might be seen in later references to the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus. This is in fact the typical Protestant reading of the texts. However, this view is open to serious criticism.
The Greek word which we translate "until" is heos and is frequently used in the Bible to indicate action which continues past an event. For example, Matthew concludes his gospel with the promise of Jesus that he will be "with you always, even to (heos) the end of the age" 928:20). Obviously Jesus isn't saying that he intends to leave us at the end of the age. In fact, the point of the text is to indicate that he will still be with us beyond the end of the age, always! Similarly in Acts 3:34, Peter quotes David saying," The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until (heos) I make thine enemies a footstool for thy feet." Peter isn't meaning to imply that Jesus will no longer be at God's right hand once his enemies become a footstool of his feet (i.e. are destroyed).
Similar examples abound in the Old Testament. In Genesis 8:7, we read that Noah sent out a raven from the ark "and it flew here and there until (heos) the water was dried up from the earth." This doesn't mean that once the water dried up, the raven never flew again. In Genesis 28:15 God says to Jacob, "I will not leave you until (heos) I have done what I have promised you." Again, God isn't saying that once he was accomplished his promises he will leave Jacob. In fact, he is promising the exact opposite. At the close of Deuteronomy (34:6), we are told that no one knows the place of Moses' burial "to this day." That doesn't mean that ever since that day the burial site has been known.
Additional examples could be cited, but we have seen enough to establish the point. That Joseph kept Mary a virgin "until" she gave birth (Mt. 1:25) does not necessarily imply that after the birth she had sexual relations with Joseph and, in fact, if the text is understood in light of the aforementioned texts, (letting scripture interpret scripture, as we Evangelicals insist) then it might be taken to imply her continued virginity! "These words of Scripture do not mean that after His birth they cohabited as man and wife..." (Calvin, ibid, vol. 3, p.71).
One might object that since Jesus is referred to as Mary's "first born son", this implies additional sons of Mary. However, in the Hebrew understanding the phrase "first born son" was used without implying additional sons. According to scripture, every first born male was holy to the Lord and belonged to God. Even if a family were without additional sons, their one and only son would be referred to as the "first born son" according to the Law of Moses.
What are we to make of the references to the "brothers" of Jesus. Matthew 12:46 reads, "While he was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to him." In Matthew 13:55, we read of Jesus "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?"
The first point that the Orthodox make is that while the text refers to the brothers of Jesus, it doesn't state that these brothers are Mary's children. The traditional understanding has been that these were perhaps Joseph's children from a previous marriage. It has to be admitted, however that such a theory is without evidence; an argument from silence.
A second traditional theory has been that these "brothers" are more likely cousins of the Lord. Consider that in the Old Testament Abraham spoke of Lot as his "brother" although in fact he was his nephew. Scripture refers to the sons of Uzziel (the uncle of Aaron) and the sons of Aaron as "brothers" when in fact they were "second cousins."
"In the Hebrew manner relatives of any sort are called 'brethren'...it is therefore very ignorant of Helvidius to imagine that Mary had many sons because there are several mentions of Christ's brethren" (Calvin, ibid. vol.2, p. 136).
Obviously, the term "brethren" or "brothers" can refer to any relatively close kinsman and, in fact, there is reason to believe that "James and Joseph and Simon and Judas" were the cousins of Jesus.
In the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, all of the gospels mention that women followers of Jesus were to be found at the foot of the Cross. In Matthew 27:56 we read of "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee." In Mark 15:40 the list is "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses (Joseph) and Salome." In John 19:25 we read of "his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." The evidence would suggest that Mary's sister, the wife of Clopas, was also the mother of James and Joseph and that they were, thus, the cousins or "brethren" of Jesus and not the children of the Virgin Mary.
This view gains further support in the light of Jesus' words to his mother and to his disciple John:
"When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household." (John 19:26-27)
Had Mary had other sons, there would have been no need for Jesus to be concerned for her welfare nor any need for him to provide for her as he did. But precisely because he was her only son, he thinks of her future and entrusts her to John.
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God