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THE HOLY MOTHER OF GODTHEHOLYMOTHEROFGOD
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The Orthodox teaching on the Mother of God.
(Continuation.)

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 Christ’s prediction of His resurrection, and believing Christ’s 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.

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 Christ’s 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 apostles’ 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 Christ’s 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 Virgin’s 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: “A Virgin before birth, a Virgin in birth, and after birth Thou remainest a Virgin.”

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 Adam’s 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 Virgin’s womb. The painlessness of the Virgin’s 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 anyone’s 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

The Mother of God was born of holy and righteous parents, Joachim and Anna, was the sole fruit of their marriage, was granted as a result of many prayers and tears; She was born after Her parents long barrenness, was born after being announced to Her parents by an angel, was born when Her parents were of a venerable age. The circumstances of the nativity of the Mother of God are very like the circumstances surrounding the birth of St. John the Baptist, described in the first chapter of the Gospel by Luke. The Holy Church teaches the same about the Mother of God. The old and barren Anna bore Joachim a daughter and God - a Mother, but bore the child not without seed. Having been born of holy parents, the Virgin became a God-chosen vessel, into which entered God the Word, and in which this Word - the Creator of all things visible and invisible - served as the seed and became incarnate.

Nativity of the Holy Theotokos
Nativity of the Holy Theotokos

The Son of God, born of Mary, made the Virgin a mother, and preserved the Mother a virgin. The God and Creator of the Virgin became her Son, at the same time remaining Her God and Creator; being Her Son, He was simultaneously Her redeemer and Saviour. The first Adam produced a woman without the help of a wife; the Holy Virgin conceived and gave birth to the new Adam without the help of a husband. However, despite all the majesty of the Mother of God, Her own conception and birth occurred in accordance with the universal law of mankind; consequently, the general status of mankind concerning conception in iniquity and birth in sin applies also to the Mother of God. Sensing the presence of the long-awaited Saviour in Her womb, under the influence of spiritual, grace-filled joy She spoke the following wondrous words: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and My spirit hath rejoiced in God My Saviour. The Mother of God confesses before the whole of mankind, in the Gospel which is read by all, that the God She has born is also Her Saviour. If God is Her Saviour, then She has been conceived and born in sin, in accordance with the universal rule of fallen mankind. God is the Creator of both angels and men; but He is the Saviour of men only; in regard to angels, who had not fallen, He is their Lord, but not their redeemer, nor their Saviour. The acceptance of God by sentient creation as its Saviour is at the same time a confession on the part of this creation of its own damnation. The Virgin Mary was conceived in a fallen state and was born in a fallen state common to all mankind. But Her giving birth to God, Her Saviour and the Saviour of all people, endowed Her with a majesty higher than that of the sinless angels, who had not succumbed to mortality and had no need of a Saviour.

The Mother of Gods righteous parents, who were of a venerable age and who had restrained their flesh by means of many long spiritual labors, were not, consequently, influenced by the strong feelings of passion that inevitably accompany the marital relations of couples who are still young and full of energy, and whose inner state represents a far cry from the pious frame of mind of Joachim and Anna. In Her conception and nativity the Mother of God was subjected to the original sin that had been passed to mankind by the forefathers. However, having been born of righteous parents, She Herself lived a most righteous life. Purity and humility were Her chief virtues. She engaged in constant prayer, divine contemplation, the reading and the study of the Holy Scriptures. Not only was She foreign to all mortal sins, but also to all words and deeds contrary to the Law of God in which She was instructed and brought up. Nevertheless, despite the righteousness and purity of the Holy Virgins life, up to the time that the Holy Spirit descended upon Her and the apostles, and endowed them with Christian perfection, the old man was made manifest in Her. We see proof of this in the Gospel. Thus, for example, prior to being enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Her mind, like the minds of the apostles, remained obscured, and She did not understand the words of the 12-year-old Saviour, spoken to Her in the temple. Death and sin, inculcated into human nature, could not but show themselves. Such is the true and exact teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Mother of God, in regard to original sin and death which had infected humanity.

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Mother of God occurred twice. The Holy Spirit descended upon Her for the first time after the Archangel Gabriels annunciation, made divinely pure the One who was already pure in human terms, made Her capable of containing within Herself God the Word and becoming His Mother. Her virginity was sealed by the Spirit: She, who up until then had kept Herself free of all voluptuous thoughts and feelings, was made impregnable to such thoughts and feelings. That was only natural for the Virgin who was appointed to serve God more closely than even the Cherubim and the Seraphim. Not only was She to conceive and give birth to the Son of God, but She was to spend Her life in the closest proximity to Him. She suckled Him; in Her arms He spent His infancy and childhood; with Her He spent His entire youth up to manhood, up to the age of thirty, when He appeared to the world as the promised redeemer. But even during the three-and-a-half years in which the Lord taught people the way of salvation, the Mother of God often accompanied Him, as we can see from the Gospel. At the time of His first descent upon the Holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit made Her capable of such supreme service and worthy of such service.

The Holy Spirit descended upon the Virgin for the second time on the day of the Pentecost, when He also descended upon the apostles, with whom the Theotokos remained inseparable after the Lords ascension into heaven. This time the Holy Spirit destroyed within Her the hold of death and original sin, raised Her to the supreme stage of Christian perfection, made Her a new person in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps some people may wonder why the hold of death was not destroyed within the Holy Virgin during the Holy Spirits first descent upon Her? The answer lies in the fact that this destruction of death was the fruit of redemption: it could not take place before redemption itself had taken place. Similarly the holy apostles, although possessing various gifts of grace prior to their enlightenment, such as: the healing of illness, expulsion of demons and resurrection of the dead, - were fully transformed into a state of supreme spirituality only on the day of the Pentecost, as a result of redemption.

All of the above shows up the absurdity of the two opposing Western teachings, in which the Catholics teach that the Mother of God was conceived, like the Saviour Himself, without original sin (immaculate conception), while the Protestants do not acknowledge the Ever-virginity of the Holy Virgin. Truth, however, is foreign to all exaggerations and diminishments: it places everything in proper perspective.


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