The Theotokos (Mother of God) According to Orthodoxy

Icon of the Mother of God, the Enlightener of Minds

Icon of the Mother of God, the Enlightener of Minds

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




O You Apostles from far off, Being gathered together in the village of Gethsemane, Lay my body in burial, and You, my Son, and my God, Receive now my spirit from me.


You are the sweetest of Angels, The gladness of the afflicted ones, A protection of all Christians, O Virgin Mother of our Lord; Grant me now help and save me From the eternal torments. I have you as Mediator Before God who love mankind; May He not question my action Before the hosts of the Angels, I ask of you, O Virgin, Hasten now quickly to my aid.


You are a tower adorned with gold, A city surrounded by twelve walls, A shining throne touched by the sun, O Royal Seat for the King, O unexplainable wonder, How do you nurse the Master?


The Mother of God. Among the Saints a special position belongs to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Orthodox reverence as the most exalted among God's creatures, 'more honored than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim' (From the hymn Meet it is, sung at the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and at other divine services). Note that we have termed her 'most exalted among God's creatures'; Orthodox, like Roman Catholics, venerate or honor the Mother of God, but in no sense do the members of either Church regard her as a fourth person of the Holy Trinity, nor do they assign to her the worship due to God alone. In Greek theology the distinction is very clearly marked: there is a special word, latreia, reserved for the worship of God, while for the veneration of the Virgin entirely different terms are employed (duleia, hyperduleia, proskynesis).

In Orthodox services Mary is often mentioned, and on each occasion she is usually given her full title: 'Our All-Holy (Panagia), immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.' Here are included the three chief epithets applied to Our Lady by the Orthodox Church: Theotokos (God-bearer, Mother of God), Aeiparthenos (Ever-Virgin), and Panagia (All-Holy). The first of these titles was assigned to her by the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus, 431 AD), the Second by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 553 AD). ["Belief in the Perpetual virginity of Mary may seem at first contrary to Holy Scripture, since St. Mark 3:31 mentions the 'brothers' of Christ. But the reference may be to half-brothers, born to Joseph from a previous marriage; also the word employed here in Greek can mean cousin or other close relative, as well as brother in the strict sense."] The title Panagia, although never a subject of dogmatic definition, is accepted and used by all Orthodox.

The appellation Theotokos is of particular importance, for it provides the key to the Orthodox devotion to the Virgin. We honor Mary because she is the Mother of our God. We do not venerate her in isolation, but because of her relation to Christ. Thus the reverence shown to Mary, so far from eclipsing the worship of God, has exactly the opposite effect: the more we esteem Mary, the more vivid is our awareness of the majesty of her Son, for it is precisely on account of the Son that we venerate the Mother.

We honor the Mother on account of her Son: Mariology is simply an extension of Christology. The holy Fathers of the Council of Ephesus insisted on calling Mary Theotokos, not because they desired to glorify her as an end in herself, apart from her Son, but because only by honoring Mary could they safeguard a right doctrine of Christ's person. Anyone who thinks out the implications of that great phrase, "The Word (Logos) was made flesh," cannot but feel a profound awe for her who was chosen as the instrument of so surpassing a mystery. When people refuse to honor Mary, only too often it is because they do not believe in the Incarnation.

But Orthodox honor Mary, not only because she is Theotokos, but because she is Panagia, All-Holy. Among all God's creatures, she is the supreme synergy or cooperation between the purpose of the deity and human freedom. God, Who always respects our liberty of choice, did not wish to become incarnate without the willing consent of His Mother. He waited for her voluntary response" 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be as you have said' (St. Luke 1:38). Mary could have refused; she was not merely passive, but an active participant in the mystery. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas said:

"The Incarnation was not only the work of the Father, of His Power and His Spirit…but it was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin…Just as God became Incarnate voluntarily, so He wished that His Mother should bear Him freely and with her full consent."

If Christ is the New Adam, Mary is the New Eve, whose obedient submission to the will of God counterbalanced Eve's disobedience in paradise. 'So the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by her faith.' 'Death by Eve, life by Mary.'

The Orthodox Church calls Mary 'All-Holy'; it calls her 'Immaculate', or 'Spotless' (in Greek, Achrantos); and all Orthodox are agreed in believing that Our Lady was free from actual sin. But was she also free from ancestral (original) sin? In other words does Orthodoxy agree with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed as a dogma by Pope Pius IX, in 1854, according to which Mary, from the moment she was conceived by her mother Saint Anne, was by God's special decree delivered from 'all stain of original sin'? The Orthodox Church has never in fact made any formal definitive pronouncement on the matter...the Orthodox have rejected the doctrine, for several reasons. They feel it to be unnecessary; they feel that, at any rate as defined by the Roman Catholic Church, it implies a false understanding of original sin; they suspect the doctrine because it seems to separate Mary from the rest of the descendants of Adam, putting her in a completely different class from all the other righteous men and women of the Old Testament. (Source: The Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware)



Just this fact is very closely linked with the fact that the conception, pregnancy and birth of Christ by the Panagia were without pleasure, labor or pain. Christ, then, was conceived, carried in the womb as an infant and given birth without pleasure, labor or pain. He was conceived without seed, for two basic reasons. First, in order to assume the pure human nature, and secondly, in order to be born without corruption and without labor.

Just as the Panagia conceived Christ without pleasure, in the same way she also carried Him for nine months in her womb without labor or heaviness. She did not feel heavy, except for the fact that the Divine Infant was developing physiologically and had the weight of a developing embryo. So the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah applied: "Behold the Lord rides on a swift cloud" (Isaiah 19:1). "Swift cloud" means the human flesh which was so very light that it did not cause any heaviness and labor to the Panagia throughout the nine-month pregnancy.

The conception of the Panagia without seed and without pleasure, and her effortless pregnancy are closely connected with the uncorrupt and painless birth of Christ. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa there is a close-relationship between pleasure and pain, since every pleasure, and pain followed in the whole human race. So also now liberation from pleasure brings joy to the human race. The birth of Christ did not destroy the virginity of the Theotokos, just as the conception did not occur with pleasure, nor the pregnancy with heaviness and labor. Where the Holy Spirit acts "the order of nature is conquered."

The duration of the Panagia's pregnancy is a prefiguration of the unceasing communion which the saints will have in the Kingdom of God.

It is a known and given fact that the pregnant mother has a close and organic connection with the baby in the womb. Contemporary scientists have shown that the infant is greatly influenced not only by the physical condition of its mother, but also by her psychological make-up. And since the Divine Infant was conceived of the Holy Spirit, but grew in the natural way, that is to say, had communion with the body of the Panagia that is why there is a close connection between Christ and the Theotokos. Of course we must see this from the point of view that the Panagia gives her blood to Christ, but also Christ gives His grace and blessing to her. Christ in the womb did not cease to be at the same time on the Throne of God united with His Father and the Holy Spirit. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos).



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,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George