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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.


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.

When God passed sentence on the first two fallen people in paradise, He also uttered the promise that the Seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent.  The promise does not mention the seed of man; the destruction of sin’s dominion over mankind is attributed exclusively to the Seed of woman.  As the time approached in which the Redeemer was to appear on earth, the prophecy concerning the manner of His appearance was given more clearly.  Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign:  behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel, declared the prophet Isaiah, describing the incarnation seven centuries before the event.  Verily: a wondrous sign, a God-given sign, such as could not even enter the mind of man!  A supernatural sign, which was conceptualized and given by the Lord and Creator of man Himself, by changing the laws of nature, by allowing a Virgin to become a Mother, and Himself, the Lord and Creator of all visible and invisible beings - the Fruit of Her womb!  Enticed by pride, Adam dreamed of becoming a God in paradise.  He attempted to snatch Divinity from God by force, to endow a circumscribed being with infinity through the contrivances and efforts of a weak creation.  This creation perished in its attempt to accomplish its audacious and insane scheme.  It was unable to fathom God’s infinite goodness, which was capable of granting to His creation not only the merits of the angelic and human natures, but of His very Divinity, inasmuch as any creation is able to cope with such a gift.  The forefathers’ scheme and attempt were murderous and futile: only God Himself can grant His Divinity to mankind, by becoming incarnate from a Virgin, by taking upon Himself the image of a servant and creation, by embodying the nature of sentient creatures in order to make them capable of embodying the nature of Divinity.

The Son of God possessed a human nature that was quite pure but circumscribed.  It was circumscribed not only by the limitations with which man was created, but by those which appeared in human nature after the fall.  The Son of God did not manifest even an iota of sin; His natural traits were not transformed into passions, as they are in us;  traits resided within Him in a natural order, in constant obedience to the spirit, they were guided by the spirit, while the spirit was ruled by His Divinity in conjunction with His humanity.  The Son of God was able to feel sadness and sorrow; but this sadness never took control of Him, as it happens with us, but was constantly guided by His spirit.  The Lord was saddened by the death of Lazarus and shed tears at his tomb.  The Lord wept over Jerusalem, prophesying its destruction for rejecting the Messiah; the Lord allowed Himself to be overwhelmed by such anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, that this state of His soul is described in the Gospel as  mortal agony.  It was accompanied by such a dolorous stress of the body, that the body produced sweat which fell to the ground in the form of great drops of blood.  But even in the presence of such intense torment, the  agony was subjugated to the spirit, which, expressing both the heaviness of its sorrow and its control over the sorrow, said: O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt (Matt. 26:39).

The Son of God exhibited the trait of anger; but this anger acted within Him as a sacred power of the soul, as a form of energy, yet constantly preserving the dignity of a human being.  The Lord expressed His anger at those who did not allow children to come to Him; He was filled with anger at the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, who dared to blaspheme God’s obvious miracles.  An extraordinary control of this anger, while making use of its movement, is exhibited by the Lord in the terrible accusations He leveled at the Jews. 

A majestic spiritual panorama is presented by Christ’s human traits during His suffering for mankind: throughout the entire period of suffering the Lord remains true to His own Self; not for a single moment is He overwhelmed by the ardor and excitement which usually inspire mortal heroes; not for a single moment does He exhibit the loquaciousness and eloquence of these heroes; not for a single moment does He manifest any change within Himself, but He continues to be filled with an unshakable and even-tempered force, which acts within Him without any let-up or pressure.  Whoever analyzes the character of Jesus Christ while reading the Gospel wisely, such a one will confess Jesus Christ as Lord simply on the basis of His character, as did the Apostle Peter.  Such a character, constantly free and open, constantly even-tempered, never faltering, never changed by either praise or condemnation, not even when standing before murderers and death itself, - there is not another character like it among human characters!

However, the son of God was free of one of the characteristics of our fallen nature: He was free of that characteristic, which was not felt at all before the fall, but was experienced immediately after the fall, and then continued to develop until it became inherent to our fallen nature.  Adam, created without passion from the earth, and Eve, created without passion from Adam, in accordance with their passionless beginning did not initially experience any passion.  They were so innocent that, despite their constant contact with each other, they had no need of clothes, they did not even comprehend their nakedness.  At its very inception God make His body divine, capable of only spiritual and divine feelings.  Although the traits of the Son of God’s body were human, at the same time they were also sacred, as belonging to a Person Who is both God and man.  By the same token the human traits of the Son of God were simultaneously natural and supernatural.  The holiness of the body of the Lord and God was infinitely higher than the holiness of the body of the first-created man - Adam.  Obviously the contagion which man’s fall produces in all of mankind, as evidenced by his conception in the manner of beasts and animals, a conception made in sin, had no place here, because the usual manner of conception did not take place.  On the contrary:  just as the conception was divine, so all of its consequences were divine.  The Son of God, being the sacrifice of atonement, took upon Himself all the frailties of mankind - the result of his fall - except sin, in order to redeem mankind and thus deliver it from the burden of these frailties, which were introduced into human nature by the fall.  The Son of God took upon Himself and bore these frailties voluntarily, and was not subjected to them by the imperatives of nature: being a perfect man, He was also perfect God, the Creator of human nature, the unlimited Master of this nature.  For this reason He manifested His humanity in any manner He wished.  Sometimes He manifested His humanity in the weakness of our fallen nature: became tired, was thirsty, took rest in sleep, was seized and bound in the garden of Gethsemane, suffered abuse and beating, was crucified and buried.  Sometimes He manifested His humanity in the form of its original creation: walked on water, entered Jerusalem on an unbridled animal; such power was originally in Adam’s possession.  Sometimes the Lord manifested His human nature in that state of glory and majesty, which He granted to human nature through the union of Divinity and humanity within Himself, and which it did not have when it was created; this state of majesty and glory He exhibited by means of extraordinary miracles, and exhibited it primarily to His chosen disciples during His transfiguration, when He showed it to the extent to which they were able to see it, and not as it is in reality.

The Son of God’s Divinity, though unmerged with His humanity, is at the same time completely joined with it - with His spirit, soul and body.  When Christ’s soul was separated from His body through death, Christ’s Divinity remained inseparable from both His soul and His body.  The Church proclaims: In the grave with the body, and in hell with the soul, for Thou art God; in Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou, O Christ, filling all things, Thou Who art infinite (troparion for the hours at Pascha).

The Son of God’s body was unusually well-proportioned and beautiful, as His forefather, the prophet King David, sang of Him prophetically: Thou art fairer than the children of men.  But the physical beauty of the Son of God did not make the impression on the female sex that is usually made by male beauty.  May such a vile and blasphemous idea, propagated by some heretics, be rejected and condemned.  On the contrary, Christ’s body healed all passions, both of the soul and of the body.  It abundantly transferred divine grace to all who looked upon it, all who touched it, both men and women.  For virtue went out of Him, - testifies the Gospel, - and healed them all.  As many as touched Him were made whole.  Such was the divine body of which the Lord Himself said: Whosoever eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.  He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me and I in him (John 6:54, 56).  Thus may every pious Orthodox Christian imagine the unimaginable majesty of the Mother of God, Who carried such a body in Her womb, then carried it in Her arms, and Who for a long time remained in the greatest proximity to this body.  In accordance with the divinity of Christ’s body, it would be appropriate to affirm the Mother of God’s majesty as being Divine.

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