Theotokos: Mother and Symbol of the Church

Icon of the Mother of God of St. Theodore

Icon of the Mother of God of St. Theodore

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Lady, Bride of God, spotless, undefiled, incorruptible, most chaste and pure Virgin, who by thy wondrous conceiving hast united God, the Word, to man, and joined the fallen nature of our race to heavenly things; the only hope of the hopeless, and the succour of those who fight; the ready help of those who flee to Thee, and the refuge of all Christians; spurn not me an accursed sinner, though I have rendered myself altogether useless by my shameful thoughts, words, and deeds, and through indolence have become a slave to the pleasures of life; but as the Mother of the Merciful God, mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and a prodigal, and receive my prayer, though it be offered unto thee by unhallowed lips; and using thy boldness as a mother, entreat thy Son and our Lord and Master that He may extend to me His goodness and mercy, so as to overlook my numberless transgressions, and turn me to repentance, and show me forth as a zealous doer of His Commandments. And be thou ever near me for that thou art merciful, compassionate, and gentle; in this present life an ardent help and protector, defending me from the assaults of adversaries and leading me to salvation; and in the hour of my passing hence care for my miserable soul and drive far from it the dark visions of evil spirits; and in the awful Day of Judgment, deliver me from eternal punishment, and present me as an inheritor of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God. May this be my lot, O Lady, All-Holy Mother of God, through thy mediation and help, by the grace and mercy of thine Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; to Whom belong all glory, honor and worship, with His All-Holy, Righteous, and Life-Giving Spirit, now, and forever, and from all Ages to all Ages. Amen. (The Akathist Hymn)


By George S. Gabriel, Ph.D. [Posted with permission of the Publisher]

Mother and symbol of the Church

In Old Israel, only the kings and the priests were anointed. The anointing was powerless, prefiguring but not conferring the seal of the Holy Spirit. In Mary, the barren church of Old Israel is reborn as the New Israel, and the royal and priestly lines are recapitulated and become one. The fruit of her womb is the one High Priest and King of the New Israel Who, in His human genealogy, descends from both the royal and priestly lines of Israel according to the Law. Therefore, the Holy Fathers tell us, in and through Mary, God transferred the priestly office from the Levitical order and its animal sacrifices to the Davidic royal house from which the saving blood would pour forth according to the Eucharistic order of Melchisedek: "This day, a Virgin maiden comes forth from Judah and David, and she insures the advent of the Person Who is of both the royal house and the priesthood, Who [came and] served according to the order of Melchisedek and did no priestly service according to the order of Aaron. This day, the mystic cloth of the Divine Priesthood that was woven earlier by the Law for the Levitical seed is made white by grace, and God dyes the royal sash crimson in the Davidic blood." (St. Andrew of Crete, Homily on the Birth of the Theotokos, in Μέγας Συναξαριστής, Athens 1963, vol 9, p. 181). "Through you [O Theotokos0, the royal house was enriched with the priesthood. Through you, the transfer of the Law was accomplished, and the spirit hidden beneath its letter was uncovered with the passing, of the priestly office from the Levitical to the Davidic tribe" (St. John of Damascus, Homily on the Birth of the Theotokos, ch.5).

With Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, the preparatory purpose of the Law, of Israel's tribal priesthood with its bloody animal sacrifices, came to the end appointed by God. Christ's Priesthood, however, was not prefigured by the Law or anything of the Jews, but by Melchisedek, the Gentile priest-king who blessed Abraham. His name means "king of righteousness." The Psalmist presents God the Father addressing His Son: "Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedek" (Psalm 109:4). The priest-king, as Saint Paul says, was a type of Christ, "made like unto the Son of God...In the likeness of Melchisedek there ariseth another priest, Who is made not after the Law of a carnal commandment but after the power of un-ending life" (Hebrews 7:3-16). Melchisedek appears mysteriously in the Bible "without father, mother, or ancestry" (Hebrews 7:3). Because Jesus' birth did not spring from a carnal imperative or union, He is the only Priest "according to the order of Melchisedek since He is motherless and fatherless: mother from God the Father, and fatherless from His mother" (St. Basil of Seleucia, Homily on the Annunciation, MPG 85, 444B.). "Just as [Melchisedek] is fatherless because his genealogy is not given, so is Christ from the very nature of the matter" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily XII on Hebrews, MPG 63, 97). Offering bloodless sacrifices of bread and wine to God, Melchisedek prefigured the priesthood of the bloodless sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist. (The Divine Liturgy uses the term "bloodless sacrifices" in the priest's prayer after the litany for the catechumens, meaning there is no reenactment and re-slaying of the Lamb of God and no re-shedding of His blood at the Liturgy. Jesus Christ was slain "once and for all" (Hebrews 9:12, 28; 10:10). The bread and wine are changed into the once slain but never depleted Lamb of God. "Since this [Eucharistic] sacrifice is not accomplished by the slaying of the Lamb but by the bread changing into the slain Lamb, it is clear that, at this time, it is a change that takes place and not a slaying" (St. Nicholas Cavasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, ch. 32, in Φιλοκάλια, vol. 22, Thessalonica: ΕΠΕ, 1979). The Divine Liturgy says, "The Lamb of God is distributed but not dismembered, ever consumed but never depleted, sanctifying those who partake of it," and never needing to be re-slain and replenished. Roman Catholic tradition, on the other hand, holds that the Mass is indeed a reenactment of the slaying, but it is also more than a reenactment. Each Mass is a re-slaying of the Lamb of God, and it takes place in perpetuation of the satisfaction of divine justice. Therefore, prefigured by mystical type seven centuries before the Levitical priesthood, awaiting the time when Mary would bring forth the Great High Priest in the likeness of Melchsedek. With the fullness of time, the spirit and purpose of the Law which had long been hidden beneath the letter of the Law is revealed. Fulfilled is the promise that in Abraham's seed the nations shall be blessed. And Israel is born anew in the regenerating water and blood that flow from the Cross.

The members of this New Israel are a new "holy nation, a peculiar people," an ethnos without tribes or ethnicity, a nation with no abiding or ruling city here. In the New Israel, not only priests and kings but all the people are anointed with a new anointing, the holy chrism and seal of the Holy Spirit, into "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) inherited not through "the will of the flesh," (St. John 1:13), not through a family, tribe, or ethnic birthright, but through "the adoption as sons of God" (Galatians 3:5; St. John 1:12) by grace. Only by the royal priesthood and the consent of the sons of God can the liturgical priesthood be conferred.

Mary is the mother of the Church because she is the mother of the Life-Giving body and blood of Christ. Without the Theotokos there is no Christ and no Church. Holy Fathers even identified Mary with the Church and the Church with Mary. "We hymn the Ever-Virgin Mary, which is to say, the Church" (St. Cyril of Alexandria. Quoted by A. Yevtich in The Theotokos: Four Homilies on the Mother of God by St. John of Damascus, p. 270, n26). In the name "Theotokos" the whole meaning of the Church is contained. This is symbolized by the holy icons called the Platytera, "She who is broader than the Heavens" (Πλατυτέρα τών ουρανών), in which she bears Christ enthroned in her womb, which is represented by a circle or oval containing the Infant Christ. Standing with her arms open, ever receiving all who are present, she is a precise figure and symbol of the Church with Christ is her midst. Traditionally placed in the apse of the church building, the Platytera overlooks the sanctuary and the holy table and us her children. (The placement of the Theotokos' image in this location predates iconoclasm. The Platytera icon visually expresses the words, "Our God Who existed before the ages made your womb a throne and your belly broader than the heavens." (From the Theotokion, "All creation rejoices in your who are full of grace..."). All men are her children, Christians and non-Christians alike, because she mediated human life to God and divine life for all mankind and not for certain chosen races. Because of her consent to the Incarnation, creation itself took place. She was our mother ontologically in the eternal will of God before the ages, and our mother in history who gave flesh to the Lord that we may be reborn of that same flesh. Therefore, whether we call her Mediatress, or Mother of Life, we say the same thing..."

(To be continued)



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.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George