The Holy Theotokos and the Church

My beloved spiritual children of Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

[Source: "The Life of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos," published by the Holy Apostles Convent and Dormition Skete, Buena Vista, CO.]

The Holy Virgin Mary is more than an example of piety. She is more than a Saint. She is All-Holy, Ever-Virgin and Mother of God. She is the Church's Greatest Theologian. She is the one human--body and soul resurrected, united and complete--and now deified person who is "more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. In her the whole mystery of the Divine economy is personified, writes Saint John of Damascus (c. 676-750).

As we have seen, the Scriptures say more about the Theotokos than most people perceive, albeit, in a hidden manner, revealed only to the faithful through Holy Tradition and the writings of the Holy Fathers. If there was general silence about her in the early Church it was intentional to avoid comparisons with the pagan religions which provide anti-typical divine, mother and child similarities, such as the Egyptian Isis and Serapis or the Oriental Cybele and Attis. Only later, during the 4th and 5th centuries, did circumstances demand an elucidation of the Virgin Mary's role in the plan of salvation.

Since Mary Theotokos is one flesh with her Divine Son, she is, therefore, necessarily the Mother of those baptized, into His body, the Church. Not without purpose does Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus (c. 315-493) write that she is "the holy Jerusalem, Virgin of Christ, His Bride," for what is granted spiritually to the Church. Let us see how, in the writings of the Holy Fathers, the Theotokos is, among other things, portrayed as the Church; for as Saint Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) chants, she is the "living city of the King and God, in which Christ hast dwelt, and worked our salvation."

Saint Cyril of Alexandria (+444), in his famous litany of praise spoken after the Council at Ephesus, where he was dominant figure, ends with these words: "Let us give glory to Mary, Ever-Virgin, that is to the holy Church, and her Son and Immaculate Spouse; to Him be glory forever and ever."

Saint Clement of Alexandria (d. before 215) points to the Mary-Church parallel, saying, "O mysterious wonder! There is only one Father of all, only one Logos/Word of all, and the Holy Spirit is also one and He is everywhere. There is but one Virgin Mother. I like to call her the Church...she is both Virgin and Mother--immaculate as a Virgin and loving as a Mother. She calls her children and feeds them with holy milk; the Logos/Word, a child."

Therefore, in giving birth to the body of Christ, Mary gave birth to the Church, the unity of all that are incorporated into Christ. She is the progenitress of the Christian race, that is, the historical Church that is forever united to divinity.

Saint Ildefonsus (+667), Archbishop of Toledo, affirms that "the form of our Mother the Church is according to the form of the Lord's Mother". The mysteries of the Virgin's life are daily renewed in the Church; for, as one wedded, she is at the same time immaculate. As a Virgin, she conceives us by the Spirit, yet brings us forth without pain, so the venerable Bede (c. 673-735) was to write. The influence of Saint Ambrose (339-397) is also evident here. "Mary is truly espoused but a Virgin, because she is a type of the Church which is immaculate but wedded." And, "What was prophesied of Mary was as a type of the Church." In another place, he writes: "How beautiful are those things which have been prophesied of Mary under the figure of the Church." In other words, she is the Church because she is the Mother of Christ, even as she is Mother to all Orthodox Christians, His "brethren."

Since Mary Theotokos is the Church, the "perpetual virginity" of Mary also signifies the "perpetual virginity" of the Church, that is, her inviolate fidelity to Christ. Deny the one, and one must deny the other: the Church and the Theotokos (Mother of God) stand together; ecclesiology and Mariology safeguard each other. Thus, too, the Orthodox Church insists upon the "All-Holiness" of the Virgin Mary, for the same reason that she speaks of the Church as "Holy". She is Panagia or All-Holy, because she is the Church.

The types of the Virgin are everywhere associated with the types of the Church. It may seem strange that she, the Virgin, is sometimes cast in the role of the Mother, Sister, Daughter, Bride and Child of Christ, but those are the relationships found in old Israel between God and His people. This explains why the Church (the Virgin), the New Israel, is depicted as the "Bride of Christ" while, at the same time, His body.

Saint Paulinus (353-431), Bishop of Nola (near Naples) writes: "What a great martyr was this, by which the Church became wedded to Christ and became at once the Lord's Bride and His Sister! The Bride with the status of Souse is a Sister...So she continues as Mother through the seed of the Eternal Logos/Word, alike conceiving and bringing forth nations. She is Sister and Spouse because Her intercourse is not physical but mental, and her Husband is not man but God. The children of this Mother comprise equally old and infants; this offspring has no age or sex. For this is the blessed progeny of God which springs from no human seed but from a heavenly race."

He continues: "This is why the teacher Paul says that 'there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28) and 'there is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called on one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4-5). 'For all of us who acknowledge Christ as Head of our body' (Col. 1:18) are one body and are all Christ's limbs' (1 Cor. 12:27). Because we have now all put on Christ and stripped off Adam, we are at once advancing towards the shape of Angels. Hence for all born in baptism there is the one task; both sexes must incorporate the perfect man, and Christ as all in all' (Eph. 4:13) must be our common Head, our King Who hands over His limbs to the Father in the Kingdom. Once all are endowed with immortal bodies, the frail condition of human lives forgoes marriage between men and women" (St. Matthew 22:30). (Orthodox Heritage)

Next: The Woman in the Twelfth Chapter of the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Saint John

Please note: I sincerely feel that before we come to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Dormition (Koimisis) of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary on August 15th, Orthodox Christians, must come to know and understand who she is and what she means to us and to our salvation in Christ, her Son and God.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George