Veneration of the Virgin Mary, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a seven (7) part series on The Veneration of the Virgin Mary, also called the Mother of God, or Theotokos (Greek for God Bearer) in the Orthodox Christian Church.

Part 1     Part 2   Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6    Part 7

Related blog posts on Jesus Christ’s Geneology: Women in Jesus’ Geneology also, Old Testament Priesthood as compared to New Testament Priesthood.

___________

PART 2

  • Overview

The Orthodox Church venerates the Mother of God because she is worthy of this praise for her perfect obedience to God’s will.   Through Divine Grace and the consent of the Theotokos, God’s son became incarnate and humanity was raised up to God.

  • Mary is the culmination of the Israelite history of God’s people.

St. Gregory Palamas in his Homily 37 on the August Dormition of the Mother of God[1] commented that the prophets foretold of the miracle of the birth of the Mother of God.  He then goes on to say that generation after generation events, make a path to their ultimate destination, to the new mystery that will be brought about in Virgin Mary.  By natural means, the community of Israel produced the Virgin-Mother, who is the beauty and excellency of Israel.

The portion of the Protoevangelium of James that the church has accepted into the Tradition of the Church regarding the Mother of God, says that from birth she had a spiritual presence, and the text also indicates that both Joachim and Anna were aware of the role Mary would play in the salvation of mankind by conversations that Anna had with Zacharias the Priest when Joachim and Anna took the 3 year old child to live in the Temple.  In Church a sample of this conversation is given at church Vespers[2] on the Feast day of the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple, Anna says to Zacharias, “Take her whom the prophets of God proclaimed in the Spirit, and lead her into the holy temple, there to be brought up in reverence, that she may become the divine “throne” of the Master of all.  His “palace”, His resting place, and His dwelling filled with light.”[3]  In the Matins Canon Ode 8 of the Entrance to the Temple by the virgin the chanters chant, “Zacharias said to Anna in spirit, “Thou does lead here the true Mother of life, whom the prophets of God heralded from afar as God’s birthgiver…..”[4]  Note that Anna and Zacharias were “in the spirit” and prophesied these words according to the tradition of the Church.  Also, note all the Old Testament imagery already applied by Anna and Zacharias to the 3 year old child in the previous sentences, ”the divine throne of the Master”….His “palace”….  “true Mother of life”….. “whom the prophets of God heralded”.

When one hears the Akathist Hymn and other hymns of the church that were written by hymnographers in the 4th century AD using the Old Testament narratives prefiguring the Mother of God, one realizes that this method of drawing from the Old Testament narratives, is not a “new invention” of the holy Fathers of the 4th Century.  The practice actually was an ancient practice from the time of the early Christians as evidenced by the conversation of Anna to the Priest Zacharias and also Mary upon her visit to Elizabeth which was discussed in Chapter 1.  The Fathers of the church continue that tradition of using Old Testament scripture and applying it to the Virgin Mary to the present day.

  •      What the Holy Fathers of the Church write about the Virgin Mary’s humanity.

The Virgin Mary was conceived according the manner in which all progeny of Adam and Eve have been conceived since the Fall.   St. John Maximovitch (+1966), writes[5] that Mary was settled in the quarters for virgins which existed in the temple after she was presented to the Temple when she was 3 years old.  She spent so much time in prayer in the Holy of Holies that one might say that she lived in it.  She desired to fulfill the commandment of God, “Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2).   Bishop Ignatius (1807-1867) writes “Despite the righteousness and the purity of life which the Mother of God led, sin and eternal death manifested their presence in her.  They could not but be manifested because such is the precise and faithful teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning the Virgin with relation to fallen nature and death.”[6]  St. Ambrose (339-397) comments, “She was a stranger to any fall into sin, but not a stranger to sinful temptations.  God alone is without sin.”[7]

His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh wrote in his Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church,[8]  “Does the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, participate in the “ancestral sin?” His Eminence says, the  question does not make much sense for the Orthodox, for it is obvious that Mary,  being part of the common human race issued of the first man (Adam), automatically participates in the fallen status and in the “spiritual death” introduced by the sin of the first man.  The human race does not inherit the sin Adam and Eve committed, only the consequences of it.

Regarding Luke 1:38, His Eminence further wrote, The Fathers of the Church speculate on Luke 1:35 concluding that Mary was purified by the Holy Spirit the day of Annunciation, in order for her to become the “worthy Mother of God.” However, even after she gave birth to the Son of God, Mary was not exempted of less serious (“venial”) sins.   Metropolitan Maximos writes that St. John Chrysostom attributes to Mary the sin of vanity, in the context of the first miracle of Christ in Cana of Galilee.  Then His Eminence goes on to write that, “Mary was also saved by her Son, for God is her Savior as well and presents the passage of Luke 1: 46-47 as verification – My Soul Magnifies the Lord And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Mary worked at keeping herself without sin and was a virgin before, during and after the incarnation of the Lord.   She prayed and fasted and resisted temptation and dedicated her life to God …. Just as we all must work at keeping ourselves without sin.   Mary is not the great exception, she is the great example.[9]

Some of the Fathers of the Church that his Eminence speaks of who all conclude that Mary was purified further by the Holy Spirit the day of the Annunciation are:

  • John Maximovitch, a contemporary saint, who reposed in 1966 writes: “Having been fore known and fore chosen, she was vouchsafed to be purified by the Holy Spirit Who came upon Her and to conceive of Him the very Savior of the world.[10]
  • Gregory Palamas writes in his sermon on the Annunciation:”She (the Virgin Mary) ran to God and reached out to Him in prayer, saying to the Archangel, “If, as you tell me, the Holy Spirit shall come upon me, purifying my nature still further and strengthening me to receive the unborn Savior…….”, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”.[11]
  • His Eminence Metropolitan Maximus of Pittsburgh wrote what the Fathers of the church have been saying since the time of the Apostles,…. Jesus, by assuming our human nature through the Virgin Mary, the Incarnate Logos, a divine person, brought this humanity to the heights of God.[12]

Note the work of the Holy Spirit in all of these examples, The Holy Spirit sanctified her, purified her further because of her free cooperation.  It is absolutely necessary for individuals to freely cooperate with divine grace in order to be able to travel the road of union with God, Theosis (deification).   The above examples from the Fathers about the Virgin Mary are perfect examples of a person traveling the road to Theosis.  In truth, the path to Theosis can only be actualized through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the Sacraments of the church together with holy works and free cooperation of the person which Mary is the prime example of.

As a way to learn about Theosis, the Virgin Mary, and the calling of all Christians, the church gives us the Akathist Hymn which is replete with Old Testament passages that are applied to the Mother of God and the salvation of mankind through her obedience to God.  Many of the passages in the hymn come from Genesis 1:1-3:24 and the story of creation.   For the Christian, the only way to understand the Old Testament is in light of the New Testament, therefore, the only way to understand the concept of Theosis (deification) as a Christian is to reflect on the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.

The accounts of the Fall of mankind have been interpreted in the New Testament by the church Fathers so as to view Adam as the representative of fallen humanity, and Christ as embodying, “The new man”.

In the 3rd and 4th chapters of Genesis the account of the disobedience of Adam and Eve is given, with the results of their sin.  The Fathers of the Church identify the sin as Pride which led to the willful disobedience of God’s Commandment to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The first thing man does after breaking God’s commandment is cover themselves because they are aware of their nakedness.  Then they hear God walking in the Garden and hide from Him.  They separated themselves from God!  God couldn’t find them the story tells us and went looking for them and asked them why they hid from Him and Adam told God it was because they were naked.  The Fathers of the church identify this nakedness as an awareness of evil which they didn’t have before they transgressed God’s commandment.   By hiding from God…that is separating themselves from Him, the Father’s explain this action as a “spiritual death”.   Another time when God goes “looking for man” is at the Resurrection.  He went down to the depths of hell to find man and bring him out of the pit of despair.   This shows a great love of God to take care of His children even in their disobedience to his commandments.  Before Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, God made them clothes to protect them and all through the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament, God continues to protect and care for man despite man’s repeated falling away from Him.

In the Story of the Fall, man’s basic spiritual relationship with God was broken and they are exiled from Eden.  Their physical condition became distorted and Adam must till the ground with toil and sweat where before their disobedience to God, the garden was there for him to tend as a gardener.  This is a dramatic contrast for the man.  For the woman, Eve is to bear her children with pain and labor and her will would be only to her husband.  Given the contrast of the plight of woman at the Fall, it can be assumed that if Eve had not disobeyed God, she would have had painless childbirth and still remained undefiled.   Sacred Tradition of the Church teaches in the hymnody about the birth of Christ by the Virgin Mary at the nativity and that it was painless and undefiled.  The hymnody of the church delineates the sharp contrast between Eve, the first mother of human kind; and the Virgin Mary, the new mother of man.   Further, Genesis indicates that man and woman had equality of responsibility to God to tend God’s creation together and to take care of each other as “Flesh of my Flesh and Bone of my Bone”.  They were to function as one-being joined together by God to be companions for each other and to care for God’s creation together.  But with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, man’s social condition changed becoming no longer harmonious and balanced.  This condition of the fallenness of mankind is summarized in the deutero-canonical book of 2 Esdras 3:20-22, as follows:  “The first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were all who were descended from him.  Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the people’s heart along with the evil root, but what was good departed and the evil remained.”

Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh writes that man’s mission in the world has always been the same from God both before the fall and after the fall.  Man is to take care of that which the Lord has created and present it back to God in the same way in which it was originally created by God:   the earth, the animals and the restoration of equality between male and female to be companions for each other and equally bare the work together to tend God’s creation.[13]

Adam in Genesis signifies the fallen and sinful condition of all humanity as noted by the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans 5:12, 15, 17:  “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned….many died through one man’s trespass…..because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man…”

But to fully understand the identity of Adam, we must also see the role of Jesus Christ in the New Testament as the “new Adam”.  In the genealogy of Luke, Jesus is described as “the son of Adam and the son of God” (Luke 3:38).  St. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:21-22) clearly describes the contrast between Adam and Jesus Christ, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

St. Paul continues in 1 Cor 15:45, 47-48 saying:  “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam (Jesus Christ) became a life-giving spirit.  The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is the man of heaven.  As was the man of dust, so are those who are of dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven….”

St. Paul’s conclusion indicates this identity of fallen and unredeemed mankind with the first Adam, and redeemed humanity with the second Adam, Jesus Christ, in this same place in scripture when he says:  “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Cor 15:49)

In His person and work, Jesus Christ is the beginning of the “new man” and the Virgin Mary is the beginning of the “new woman”.  If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Seeing the first Adam and Eve as representatives of our fallen condition, and the second Adam and Eve (Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary) as bringing about our new and redeemed human condition has led our Church to view Christ’s incarnation, teaching, crucifixion, and especially His resurrection as a restoration of “Adam and Eve” – that is the restoration of humanity — to mankind’s true self as originally created in God’s image and likeness.  This is taught repeatedly to the faithful through the hymnody of the Orthodox Church.

The first Adam as created in God’s image and likeness, also represents fallen and sinful humanity.   The new Adam, Jesus Christ, is the “beginning”, the first-born of the dead (Col 1:18) and the “first fruits” of those who were dead and now are alive (1 Cor 15:20-23).[14]

  1. Hymnody of the church that addresses the Virgin Mary’s humanity.
  • Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, The church chants, “Eve declares her daughter and descendant blessed, “for unto me is born deliverance, through which I shall be set free from the bonds of hell”[15]
  • Matins of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the church chants, “Cry out, O David: what has God sworn to thee? “What God swore to me He has now fulfilled,” said he, “from the fruit of my body He has given the Virgin.  From her the Creator, Christ the New Adam, is born, a King to sit upon my throne.  Today He reigns, Whose rule cannot be shaken.”[16]
  • Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the church chants, “On this solemn day of our feast let us strike the spiritual harp: for today is born of the seed of David the Mother of Life, who destroys the darkness. She is the restoration of Adam and the recalling of Eve, the fountain of incorruption and the release from corruption; through her we have been made godlike and delivered from death…”[17]
  • At Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, we hear, “No more are the gifts of Joachim turned away: for the lament of Anna is changed to joy. “Let all the chosen Israel rejoice with me” she says, “for behold, the Lord has given me the living Pavilion of His divine glory, unto the joy and gladness of us all and the salvation of our souls”.[18]

Conclusion

God’s Divine plan for man’s Salvation culminated in the birth of a virgin who in the fullness of time was able to be completely obedient to God to bring man’s salvation into the world.  The Orthodox Church venerates the Mother of God because she is worthy of this praise for her perfect obedience to God’s will.   Through Divine Grace and the consent of the Theotokos, God’s son became incarnate and humanity was raised up to God.

References:

[1] Saint Gregory Palamas, homily 37 on the August Dormition of Our Most Immaculate Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, 151,461b

[2] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion, 167

[3] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion,167

[4] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans.,The Festal Menaion,187-188

[5] Archbishop John Maximovitch, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, trans by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1987), 50

[6] Exposition of the Teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Mother of God, cited in John Maximovitch, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God,50-51

[7] Alexander Roberts, DD and James Donald LLDed., Apocrypha of the New Testament: The gospel of Pseudo-Matthew,  The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Writings of the Faters down to AD 325, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Pub., Co., 1986), 371

[8] His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, “The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church,” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038 (accessed November 13, 2011).

[9] Unknown.

[10] St. John Maximovitch, The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God., 59

[11] Saint Gregory Palamas, Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, ed. Christopher Veniamin (South Canaan, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2005), 58

[12] His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, “The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church,” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038 (accessed November 13, 2011).

[13] His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, “The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church,” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038 (accessed November 13, 2011).

[14] Stanley Samuel Harakas, The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers (Minneapolis, Minn.: Light & Life Pub Co, 1988),  89-90

[15] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 104

[16] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion, 107

[17] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 105

[18] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 106

Scriptural Passages and Hymnody references for this part
New Testament Old Testament Hymnody
Luke 1:38

Luke 1:35

Luke 1:46-47

Luke 3:38

Romans 5:12, 15, 17

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

1 Corinthians 15:45, 47-48

1 Corinthians 15:49

2 Corinthians 5:17

Colossians 1:18

Genesis 1:1-3:24

Leviticus 19:2

2 Esdras 3:20-22

Excerpts from Vespers from the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, Nov. 21.

Excerpts from Matins and Vespers for the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Sept. 8.

Related blog posts on Jesus Christ’s Geneology:  Women in Jesus’ Geneology  also, Old Testament Priesthood as compared to New Testament Priesthood.
 

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