Veneration of the Virgin Mary Part 3

This is Part 3 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.

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PART 3

  1. Overview

As we have seen in the previous parts of this series, in the New Testament, “Adam” comes to signify the “old man”, the fallen and sinful condition of all humanity.  Jesus Christ, in His person and work, is the beginning of the “new man”.  We are told in scripture, 2 Cor 5:17, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”.  Seeing the first Adam as representative of our fallen condition, and the second Adam (Jesus Christ) 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” – that is the restoration of humanity.

We have also seen how the very first Christians – even back to the Grandparents of the Lord, Joachim and Anna and the High Priest Zacharias – used Old Testament imagery as applied to the Virgin Mary in recognition of how she is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies and that this process of recalling Old Testament Scripture was used over and over again throughout the history of the church to the present day.

  1. Scriptural Old Testament imagery used in the hymnody of the Church in relation to the Mother of God.

The hymnody of the church uses a great deal of Temple and Ark of the Covenant imagery in relation to the Mother of God.  More so than any other object, the Ark is used to typify the Theotokos.   St. Gregory Palamas in his homily on the Nativity of the Mother of God writes,

“Today a new world and a mysterious paradise have been revealed, in which and from which a New Adam came into being, re-making the Old Adam and renewing the universe…..today the living Tabernacle of God…the inspired human Ark of the true Bread of Life sent down from heaven for us….But, who is the new world, the mysterious paradise, the inspired Tabernacle and Ark of God, ….?  It is the Maiden who before and after childbearing is eternally virgin…”[1] \

Saint Cosmas takes up the theme of comparing the Virgin Mary to liturgical vessels and chants at the Dormition of the Mother of God, Matins Canticle Six, First Canon, ”Thy Son, O Virgin, has truly made thee dwell in the Holy of Holies as a bright candlestick, flaming with immaterial fire, as a golden censer burning with divine coal, as the vessel of manna, the rod of Aaron, and the tablet written by God, as a holy ark and table of the bread of life.”[2]

On the Feast of the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple, one of the lessons read during Vespers for this feast of the Mother of God is 1 Kings 8:1-11.  This passage describes the dedication of Solomon’s temple (c.960BC).  This designated reading at this feast day to the Mother of God aligns the dedication of Solomon’s temple in the old covenant of the Lord with his people to the dedication of the new temple in the new covenant of the Lord with his people which is given through the person of the Virgin Mary.

In the New Testament, the Ark is mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. Hebrews 9:2-4 states that the Ark contained “the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.” Revelation 11:19 says the prophet saw God’s temple in heaven opened, “and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.”

A number of Biblical commentators connect the verse of Revelation 11:19 with the Woman of the Apocalypse in Revelation 12:1, which immediately follows, and they state that the Virgin Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant” in this passage.   Carrying the Savior of mankind within her, she herself became the Holy of Holies. This is the interpretation given by many Fathers of the Church in the fourth century.  At Vespers for the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple it is chanted in church, “Into the holy placed the Holy of Holies is fittingly brought to dwell, as a sacrifice acceptable to God.[3] It is also heard in church at the same service, “..for Joachim brings within today in glory the Temple and Throne of the King of all, and he consecrates as an offering to God her whom the Lord has chosen to be his Mother.”[4]  Also, during this service we hear other correlations made equating the Virgin Mary with the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, the Bridal Chamber of God the Word, the golden vessel containing the true manna, the flesh in which Divinity resides.[5]

A little history about the Ark and the Temple of Solomon is worth recalling at this point.    The Ark is described in Ex. 25:10-22 as a box surmounted by two figures of cherubim as we discussed during our first week of class.  Provisions were made for gold-plated acacia wood staves permanently inserted and fixed through golden rings so that it could be carried.  The initial purpose of the chest was to hold the “testimony” to God’s salvation.  The ark was a throne for the invisible God Who was seated on the wings of the cherubim.  Within the chest were the two stone tablets of the “covenant of the Lord” (Ten Commandments – 1 Kings 8:21); a homer (which is about two quarts) of manna was contained in a golden pot (Ex. 16:33-34) as a memorial to God’s provision; and, the rod of Aaron which bloomed blossoms and produced almonds as “a testimony … against murmurings” to the exclusive priesthood of the sons of Aaron and the authority of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 17:10).

The dwelling place of the God of Israel, was originally the portable shrine called the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in the Tabernacle tent.  In the history of the Ark, it leads the Israelites through the desert.   After King David unified Israel, he brought the Ark to Jerusalem, the new capital, with the intent of building temple as a permanent place for the Ark.  In I Chronicles 21-22, David purchased a threshing-floor for the site of the Temple.  God told King David that because his reign was of blood,  he would not be permitted to build a temple in his lifetime.  The task of building therefore passed to David’s son and successor, Solomon.  1 Kings 6:1-38, 7, and 8 describe the construction and dedication of the Temple under King Solomon.

King Solomon requested the aid of King Hiram of Tyre to provide both the quality materials and skilled craftsmen. During the construction, a special inner room, named the Holy of Holies, was prepared to receive and house the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 6:19); and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark described 1 Kings 8:9 only contained the Tablets of Stone.  Aaron’s rod that “budded” is no longer in the Ark and neither is the jar of manna (1 Kings 8:6-9).  The time frame is approximately the 10th century BC.  From that period of time, there is no mention of the Ark apart from the Prophet Jeremiah approximately around 627 BC, who prophesied of the persecutions and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the captivity of the Jews in Babylon.  Scripture tells us that Jeremiah prophesied:   “in those days, they shall no more say, “The Ark of the Covenant of the Holy One of Israel”:  It shall not come to mind; it shall not be named; neither shall it be visited…” (Jer. 3:16)

Around 587 BC, before the next destruction of the Temple, II Macc. 2:4-6 informs us that the Prophet Jeremiah was told by God to hide the Ark.  This scriptural passage says,  “being warned of God, commanded the Tabernacle and the Ark to go with him, as he went forth into the mountain where Moses climbed up…and he found a hollow cave, wherein he laid the tabernacle, and the Ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door…..Some followed the prophet and tried to mark the way, but they could not find it”( II Macc. 2:4-6).   For centuries following, the location of the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle and Holy Altar appears to have remained hidden in a cave on Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai).

Around 19 BC, Herod the Great renovated the Temple which had again been previously destroyed by the 70 years of Israelite captivity (Dan. 9:1-2), and the temple became known as Herod’s Temple.  The Works of Josephus, The Wars of the Jews,[6]further clarifies there was no Ark in Herod’s renovated temple.   According to tradition, this renovated temple, with no Ark of the Covenant, existed during the time the Virgin Mary would have gone to live in it when she was 3 years old.  St. John Maximovitch writes that the child Mary entered the newly-restored temple into which the glory of God had not descended as it had upon the Ark or upon the First Temple, the Temple of Solomon[7].  This statement seems to verify Josephus writing on the Wars of the Jews which state that the Ark of the Covenant was not in the new temple.  Sacred Tradition further indicates that the Virgin Mary lived in the Holy of Holies during her time in the temple.   The Holy Fathers of the Church have commented that fact that there was no Ark of the Old Testament in the Holy of Holies at this time did not matter, because the Old Covenant is replaced with the New Covenant with the Virgin Mary who at this point resides in the Temple until the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel that she had been chosen by God to bring salvation into the world and her betrothal to Joseph.  The Hymnody of the Orthodox Church verifies the Tradition of Mary being the “Living Ark” of God in the feast day of her presentation to the Temple on November 21.

  • Small Vespers, Nov. 21, “….into the Holy of Holies receive ye a Virgin, the spotless Tabernacle of God the Almighty”.[8]
  • Great Vespers, Nov. 21, “…Today let us, the faithful, dance for joy, singing to the Lord with psalms and hymns, venerating His hallowed Tabernacle, the living Ark, that contained the Word who cannot be contained…”[9]
  • Matins, Nov. 21, “…The Temple of God, the heavenly Tabernacle, accomplished her entry into the temple of the Law …..”[10]
  • Old Testament types of Mary.

Old Testament types of Mary which relate to the Lord dwelling in her womb include the Jar of manna (EX 16:33, 34); Aaron’s rod that budded (Nm 17:1-13); the tablet of the Law “written with the finger of God” (Ex 31:18 – The Fathers of the Church say the “finger of God” is the Holy Spirit).

Other Old testament phrases one hears in Orthodox church services related to the Virgin Mary are:

  • “The ladder reaching from earth to heaven (Gn 28:10-17)”, the Burning Bush and the Firey Throne in the Akathist Hymn and other hymns to the Mother of God. God spoke from the burning bush and lived within the Virgin, but His Divine immaterial fire (the light of God) did not consume either but instead cleansed and enlightened her soul.   The “burning” is the immaterial fire, the light of God, that cleanses and enlightens our souls.
  • A “sweet smelling fragrance” is another phrase that is used in relation to the Theotokos primarily heard in the Akathist Hymn and other hymns to the Mother of God. This refers to incense used in temple worship of God, and in the case of the Virgin Mary, it refers to her virginity and perfect obedience to the Will of God.
  • Dismissal Hymn of the Forefeast of the Entrance of the Virgin Mary: “By blossoming forth the only Ever-virgin as fruit, today holy Anna doth betroth us all unto joy, instead of our former grief; on this day she doth fulfill her vows to the Most High, leading her with joy into the Lord’s holy temple, who truly is the temple and pure Mother of God the Word.[11]
  • Kontakion of the Forefeast, “The whole world is filled today with joy and gladness on the Theotokos’s auspicious and resplendent feast, whereon with great voice it crieth out: The heavenly tabernacle is she in truth.[12]
  • There is also the imagery of the Gate with reference to the Theotokos. The Old Testament passage, Ezekiel 43:27-44.4, is the only Old Testament passage read at all four of the major feasts of the Theotokos. This reading tells about the East Gate of the heavenly temple remaining shut even as the Lord God of Israel, and He alone, goes in and out through it.  The Fathers of the Church see this as prophetic of the Lord entering Mary’s womb and being born nine months later with her virginity remaining intact – and, it is also prophetic of Palm Sunday when the Lord entered Jerusalem from the East from the Mount of Olives
  • In Ezekiel 44:2-3, Prophet Ezekiel says, “And the Lord said to me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no one shall pass through it; for the Lord God of Israel shall enter by it, and it shall be shut. For the Prince, He shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord; He shall go in by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go forth by the way of the same.  At the church service for the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple we hear, “Today the house of God receives the Gate through which no one may pass; so it has brought an end to the worship commanded by the shadow of the law.”[13] In order to understand this phrase church, review Ezekiel 43:1-12.  Ezekiel was led out from the east gate, the glory of the Lord entered, and then the gate was shut.

In modern times, the East Gate is located on the east walls of the old city of Jerusalem, leading to the temple mount.    Some consider this to be the place of the Last Judgment because historically, judgments were rendered in the gates of the city as we learn from Gen.19:1, 23:10. Since scripture says that the Messiah was to come from the East (Matthew 24:27), some biblical scholars concluded that his judgment would be at the eastern gate. This is one reason for the many Muslim, Christian, and Jewish graves on the Eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, in the Kidron Valley, and on the Western slopes of the Mount of Olives.  Some Muslims place Allah’s final judgment at this location also. Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to arrive through the eastern gate  – and Christians have for centuries associated the East Gate with Palm Sunday (the Messiah’s arrival) and also with the Second Coming of the Lord (Luke 19:35-38).

There is some speculation among historians that the current East gate was built possibly as early as in the 6th   century AD by the Byzantines – or perhaps the 7th century AD by the Arabs – over the ruins of the Second temple gate, and this “new” gate has been sealed (some say by the Arabs) since the 16th century.

“Today a new world and a mysterious paradise have been revealed, in which and from which a New Adam came into being, re-making the Old Adam and renewing the universe…..today the living Tabernacle of God…the inspired human Ark of the true Bread of Life sent down from heaven for us….But, who is the new world, the mysterious paradise, the inspired Tabernacle and Ark of God, ….?  It is the Maiden who before and after childbearing is eternally virgin…”[14]

References:

[1] The Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, UK, Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, ed. Christopher Veniamin (South Canaan, PA.: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2005, 2

[2] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 519

[3] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 164

[4] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 164

[5] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion , 164

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (Teddington, Middlesex TW118HH,: Echo Library, 2009), 351

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

[8] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion, 165

[9] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion, 166

[10] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion, 184

[11] Holy Transfiguration Monastery, trans., The Great Horologion: Book of Hours (Brookline, MA.: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1997), 317

[12] Holy Transfiguration Monastery, trans., The Great Horologion: Book of Hours (Brookline, MA.: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1997), 317

[13] Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trans., The Festal Menaion, 179

[14] The Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, UK, Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, ed. Christopher Veniamin (South Canaan, PA.: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2005, 2

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

Scriptural references and hymnody for this part
New Testament Old Testament Hymnody
2 Corinthians 5:17

Hebrews 9:2-4

Revelation 11:19

Revelation 12:1

Matthew 24:27

Luke 19:35-38

 

Genesis 28:10-17

Genesis 19:1, 23:10

Isaiah 11:1

1 Kings 8:1-11

1 Kings 8:21

Exodus 16:33-34

Exodus 25:10-22

Exodus 25:31

Exodus 16:33, 34

Exodus 31:18

Ezekiel 43:27-44:4

Ezekiel 44:2-3

Ezekiel 43:1-12

 

Numbers 17:10

Numbers 17:1-13

1 Chronicles 21-22

2 Chronicles 36:22-23

1 Kings 6:1-38, 7, 8

1 Kings 6:19

1 Kings 8:9

1 Kings 8:6-9

Jeremiah 3:16

II Maccabees 2

Ezra 1:1-4

Ezra 4

Ezra 5

Daniel 9:1-2

 

Vespers and Matins for the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God, November 21.

 

Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God.

 

 

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