The Mother of God

Icon of the Mother of God “of the Seven Arrows”

Icon of the Mother of God “of the Seven Arrows”

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


By His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Mother of God. Among the Saints, a special position belongs to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Orthodox Christians reverence as the most exalted among God's creatures, 'more honored than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim.'

In Orthodox services Mary is often mentioned, and on each occasion she is usually given here full title: 'Our All-Holy, 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 Synod (Ephesus, 431 A.D.), the second by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod (Constantinople, 553 A.D.). The title Panagia, although never a subject of dogmatic definition, is accepted and used by all Orthodox Christians.

The appellation Theotokos is of particular importance, for it provides the key to the Orthodox Christian 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 (Synod) 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 Logos/Word 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 really believe in the Incarnation.

But Orthodox Christians honor Mary, not only because she is God's creature, she is the Supreme example of 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' (Luke 1:38). Mary could have refused; She was not merely passive, but an active participant in the mystery  As Nicolas 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 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 Christians are agreed in believing that our Lady was free from actual sin. But was she also free from ancestral 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 rejected the doctrine, for several reasons. The Church feels it to be unnecessary; it is felt that, at any rate as defined in Roman Catholicism, it implies a false understanding of original sin; the doctrine 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)


"One must note that the acknowledgment of this Latin dogma of the immaculate conception 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 the 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 to be more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious than the Seraphim--has not seen and does not see any grounds for the establishment of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the sense of the Roman Catholic interpretation, although it does venerate the conception of the Mother of God, as it does also the conception of the Holy Prophet and Forerunner John...

The Most Holy Virgin was born as subject to the sin of Adam together with all mankind, and with him, she shared the need for redemption ("Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs," par. 6). The pure and immaculate life of the Virgin Mary up to the Annunciation by the Archangel, her freedom from personal sins, was the fruit of the union of her spiritual labor upon herself and the abundance of grace that was poured out upon her. "Thou has found Grace with God," the Archangel said to her in his greeting: "thou hast found," that is, attained, acquired, earned. The Most Holy Virgin Mary was prepared by the best part of mankind as a worthy vessel for the descent of God the Logos/Word to earth. The coming down of the Holy Spirit ("the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee") totally sanctified the womb of the Virgin Mary for the reception of God the Logos/Word.

As for the tradition concerning the assumption (translation) of the body of the Mother of God: the belief in the assumption (metastasis or translation) of her body after its burial does exist in the Orthodox Church.  It is expressed in the content of the service for the feast of the Dormition (Koimisis) of the Mother of God, and also in the confession of the Jerusalem Council of the Eastern Patriarchs in 1672.

Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem said that in accordance with ancient tradition, the body of the Mother of God has been taken to heaven, and he joined to this reply the well-known account of how the Apostles had been assembled in miraculous fashion for the burial of the Mother of God, how after the arrival of the Apostle Thomas her grave had been opened and her body was not there, and how it had been revealed to the Apostles that her body had ascended to Heaven (See On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies, pp. 224-26.--3rd Ed.) Written Church testimonies on this subject date in general to a relatively late period (not earlier than the 6th century, and the Orthodox Church, with all its respect for them, does not ascribe to them the significance of a dogmatic source. The Church, accepting the tradition of the ascension of the body of the Mother of God, has not regarded and does not regard this pious tradition as one of the fundamental truths of dogmas of the Christian faith." (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostomos


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

+Father George