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The Orthodox teaching on the Mother of God.

The Mother of God, the Ever-virgin Mary, is the supreme being among all created reasoning beings, incomparably higher than the highest angels - the cherubim and the seraphim, incomparably higher than all the saints. She is the Sovereign and Queen of all creation, both on earth and in heaven. She is an Ever-virgin, i.e. a Virgin before giving birth to the Son of God, a Virgin while giving birth, and a Virgin after giving birth. In accordance with Godís will She was given the name Mary, which means Mistress.

In order to comprehend the Mother of Godís majesty, in order to comprehend it in all the grandeur with which it is professed by the Orthodox Church, we are guided by an exact and detailed exposition on the incomprehensible action of the All-mighty God: the incarnation of God the Word.

The Pre-eternal Word - the Son of God - by His creative power composed a body for Himself in the Virginís womb, was conceived as simultaneously God and man, and was born as simultaneously God and man. A Son by divine nature became also a son by human nature. From the Virgin was born Jesus Christ, one Person in two indivisible yet unmerged natures, human and divine. The divine nature, despite its boundlessness, did not destroy the human nature, while the human nature, despite its unmerged existence, did in no way constrain the boundlessness of the divine nature. Such a wondrous union, accepted by faith and the spiritual wisdom which arises out of it, and incomprehensible to worldly wisdom, was created by Godís omnipotence.

The incarnate Lord had all the attributes of man: spirit, soul and body. By spirit is meant the reasoning faculty of man: his mind, his thought, his verbally-expressed heartfelt feelings, which are foreign to the nature of beasts and animals, but common to the nature of humans and angels. The soul is expressed in the life force; the soulís attributes are the will, desire, energy and natural anger which excludes wrath. These traits we also observe in animals. Christís human spirit engaged in prayer and the exposition of the word of God through human words; Christís body was conceived, was born, was nourished, grew, became weary, felt hunger and thirst, had need of sleep, suffered, was crucified and buried, arose from the dead. Due to the indivisibility of His natures, in all cases where the human nature was manifested, as though acting independently, the divine nature always accompanied it. Thus, although man was conceived in the Virginís womb, at His very inception He was also God; although a man was born from the Virgin, but at the same time God was born; a man grew up, partook of food, became weary from traveling, was bound in the garden of Gethsemane, took blows on His face and head, was crowned with a crown of thorns, was crucified - a man, but at the same time God. Thus, the apostles were the disciples and messengers of God; Judas Iscariot betrayed God; the Jewish archpriests and Pontius Pilate were the murderers of God; the Ever-virgin is the Mother of God. Due to the indivisibility of natures in the one Person, all that happened to one nature invariably reflected upon the other.

When the Son of God was conceived, one half of Him was borrowed from humanity - the Virgin; the male seed was rejected. The reason for this is clear. Following immediately upon the creation of the first people, mankind was endowed with the ability to multiply. This ability was corrupted by sin together with all our forebearsí other abilities; thus, in engendering people, this ability passes on to them the poison of sin at the very moment of their inception, as the prophet King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, confessed on behalf of humanity: in iniquity was I conceived. Such a method of conception, which passed on sinfulness together with life, could not be used for the conception of the Son of God, Who was destined to atone for mankind. The sacrifice for mankindís sinfulness had to be free of all sin, completely unblemished. Even more than that, it had to be of immeasurable value, in order to be able to atone for all mankind, guilty in the eyes of God, and unredeemable by any limited price, no matter how high that price. Thus, human nature made the Son of God able to become the requisite Sacrifice, while the divine nature imparted to this Sacrifice its immeasurable value.

In order to take on humanity, God the Word replaced the action of the male seed with the creative power of God. ďThe Son of God, - says St. John Damascene, - from the most pure and virginal cells formed for Himself the beginning of our nature, a body, animated by a verbal and reasoning soul, yet formed it not out of a seed, but creatively.Ē For such a worthy conception a worthy Virgin was also prepared.

The Virgin, of Whose own conception the Archangel brought tidings to the praying parents, weeping over their barrenness, Who was the fruit of tearful prayers and fasting, Who was the daughter of righteous parents, Who from birth was dedicated by them to God, Who in accordance with Her own spirit dedicated Herself entirely to Godís service, - this Virgin was Herself already a very pure vessel. The Virginís purity was so totally alien to sensual feeling that Her mind, which was constantly directed towards and fastened upon God, never even descended to any thoughts of marriage. This she witnessed before the Archangel who brought Her the tidings of Her conception and birth of a Son. This pure vessel, prepared by God by means of holy people and holy angels, prepared moreover by its own state of mind, was further purified by the Holy Spirit for the reception of the immaterial seed - the Word.

When the Virgin questioned the Archangel concerning the means of conception and birth by one who did not know a husband, he explained the means to her thusly: The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow Thee. The power is God the Word, Who is both the Power of God and the Wisdom of God: All things were made by Him - the Word - and without Him was not anything made that was made.

The Holy Spirit descended upon the pure Virgin and made Her even purer. She Who was pure in Her own state of body and mind was made most pure by the creative action within Her of the life-giving, purifying, renewing, transforming Spirit of God. The pure Virgin became the Most-pure, grace-filled, divine Virgin. Into such a renewed and divinely adorned vessel, which had acquired from the action of the Holy Spirit within Her the ability and worthiness to accept God into Herself, descended God the Word, became within the Virginís womb both the seed and the fruit, and was incarnate. The Most-pure Virgin gave Her humanity as a gift from all mankind to the Seed - God the Word, for the conception of the Son of God.

The Virgin, having conceived and given birth to God and man in one person, truly became the Mother of God, because the One She bore was God, though also man. The Virgin, having become the Mother of God, naturally became the Mistress, Queen and Sovereign of all creation, on earth and in heaven; but at the same time She remains a creation and a servant of Her Son and God. Having given birth to the Sacrifice for all mankind, She bore this Sacrifice also for Herself, being part of mankind. Her Son is God, Creator, Lord and Saviour.

When the body of Christ was buried, it was placed in a narrow artificial cave hewed from stone, i.e. in a hill of solid stone. The cave was so narrow that in the Gospel it is called a tomb. After the body of Christ was carried inside, the entrance to the tomb was closed off with a stone of considerable size. The Jewish elders, fearing Christís prediction of His resurrection, and believing Christís body to be subject to the same laws to which all human bodies are subject, additionally sealed off the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb and, moreover, set guards at the entrance. Thus, from a human point of view, all possible impediments to a resurrection were gathered and put in place; all possible measures were taken, in case of resurrection, to have the resurrected one immediately put to death.

Kaluga icon of the Mother of God
Kaluga icon
of the Mother of God.

The Annunciation of the Holy Virgin
The Annunciation of
the Holy Virgin.

The Entombment of Christ
The Entombment of Christ.

But the divine body arose, leaving both natural barriers and human precautions untouched. The body passed through the thick, solid and hard cave; the stone remained blocking the entrance, the seal remained undisturbed; the cave did not crack to permit the resurrected body to pass through; the guards, placed in front of the cave to watch it and to commit violence if necessary, did not deserve to see either the resurrection, or the Resurrected One. Only after Christís resurrection did an angel come down, break the seal, cast off the stone and announce the great event which had taken place; the sight of the angel was enough to make the guards fall down to earth in fright. After the resurrection, the divine body passed through a closed door to appear in the midst of the apostles. It was not recognized by two disciples on their way to Emmaus; when they did recognize it during the breaking of the bread - it suddenly became invisible. This body, in view of all the apostles, separated itself from the ground, began to rise and glide through the air as though on wings, disappeared from the apostlesí view as it reached an unfathomable height, entered the heavens. It was seen in heaven by the first martyr deacon Stephen, who, guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit, exclaimed: behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. With such supernatural abilities does the Son of God manifest His human body after the resurrection. These abilities are like a spiritual crown with which the body of the Son of God was justly adorned for having vanquished and trampled upon death.

But one must not think that Christís body was endowed with these attributes only after the resurrection. By no means! Being the body of the all-perfect God, it always possessed these attributes, but exhibited them most worthily after the resurrection. There is prior evidence of the body possessing these qualities: once, while teaching in the temple in Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus Christ made reference to His Divinity; the Jews attempted to stone Him. But the Lord suddenly became invisible in their midst and left the temple, passing unchecked through the multitude of His enemies. Another time the enraged inhabitants of the city of Nazareth seized the Lord, Who was teaching in their synagogue, and led Him to the top of the mountain, in order to cast Him down and kill Him; but the Lord became invisible and departed from them. The Lord did the same during His birth: He came out of the Virginís womb without disturbing the seals of virginity, as was foreseen by the prophet Ezekiel, who rapturously described his vision: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, and therefore it shall be shut. The Holy Church sings in its hymns to the Mother of God: ďA Virgin before birth, a Virgin in birth, and after birth Thou remainest a Virgin.Ē

The divine body of the Son of God was conceived divinely and was born divinely. The Virgin gave birth, being filled with a most holy and spiritual joy. This birth was not accompanied by pain, just as the procreation of Eve from Adamís rib was not accompanied by pain. Pain had no place here, being one of the punishments for original sin, and this sin had no place here either, because, in contrast to the usual means of conception, in this case conception took place by the Holy Spirit descending upon the Virgin, by God the Word entering the Virginís womb. The painlessness of the Virginís birth is clearly seen in the simple narrative which we read in the Gospel: And She brought forth Her first-born Son, the Evangelist Luke tells us of the Mother of God, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. The Virgin gives birth and immediately begins Her service! - She wraps the Newborn in swaddling clothes and lays Him in a manger, without the need of anyoneís help, since She does not feel any pain or exhaustion, so common to women who give birth in sin, to children who are already destined for death. But the Mother of God gives birth to Life and the Giver of life.

The Mother of God, having conceived and given birth to the Son of God, became higher than all holy men and holy angels. According to St. Gregory the Sinaite, the Mother of God was the sole vessel into which God entered with His very being. Other holy people, though they become the abodes of the Triune God through the action of the Holy Spirit within them, do so in a totally different manner from the Mother of God; She alone, in order for God the Word to be conceived, was able to contain His entire essence within Her. Such an embodiment of God within oneself is sole, unique, unparalleled, inaccessible both to holy men and to holy angels, and belongs only to the Mother of God. Just as the Son of God replaced Adam and became the progenitor of all people seeking salvation, so the Mother of God replaced Eve and became their mother. Just as the Son of God is the Heavenly King, the King of all men and angels, so the Mother of God is the Heavenly Queen, the Queen of men and angels.

Nativity of Christ
Nativity of Christ

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