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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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Dogmas concerning the Holy Virgin Mary
Two dogmas concerning the Mother of God are bound up, in closest fashion, with the dogma of
God the Word’s becoming man. They are: a) Her Ever-virginity, and b) Her name of Theotokos.
They proceed immediately from the dogma of the unity of the Hypostasis of the Lord from the
moment of His Incarnation — the Divine Hypostasis.
A. The Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos.
The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ from a Virgin is testified to directly and deliberately by
two Evangelists, Matthew and Luke. This dogma was entered into the Symbol of Faith of the
First Ecumenical Council, where we read: Who for the sake of its men and for our salvation came
down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.
The Ever-virginity of the Mother of God is testified by Her own words, handed down in the Gospel,
where she expressed awareness of the immeasurable majesty and height of Her chosenness:
“My soul doth magnify the Lord... For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call meblessed... For He that as mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His Name” (Luke
The Most Holy Virgin preserved in her memory and in her heart both the announcement of
the Archangel Gabriel and the inspired words of righteous Elizabeth when she was visited by
Mary: “And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to Me?” (Luke 1:43);
both the prophecy of the righteous Symeon on meeting the Infant Jesus in the Temple, and the
prophecy of the righteous Anna on the same day (Luke 2:25-38). In connection with the account
of the shepherds of Bethlehem concerning the words of the angels to them, and of the singing of
the angels, the Evangelist adds: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her
heart” (Luke 2:19). The same Evangelist, having told of the conversation of the Divine Mother
with the twelve year-old Jesus after their visit to Jerusalem on the Feast of Pascha, ends his account
with the words: “But His mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51). The
Evangelists speak also of the understanding of the majesty of her service in the world by the
righteous Joseph, her espoused husband, whose actions were many times guided by an angel.
When the heretics and simple blasphemers refuse to acknowledge the Ever-virginity of the
Mother of God on the grounds that the Evangelists mention the “brothers and sisters of Jesus,”
they are refuted by the following facts from the Gospel:
a) In the Gospels there are named four “brothers” (James, Joses, Simon, and Jude), and there
are also mentioned the “sisters” of Jesus — no fewer than three, as is evident in the words: and
“His sisters; are they not ALL with us?” (Matt. 13:56)
b) On the other hand, in the account of the journey to Jerusalem of the twelve-year-old boy
Jesus, where there is mention of the “kinsfolk and acquaintances” (Luke 2:44) in the midst of
whom they were seeking Jesus, and where it is likewise mentioned that Mary and Joseph every
year journeyed from faraway Galilee to Jerusalem, no reason is given to think that there were
present other younger children with Mary: it was thus that the first twelve years of the Lord’s
earthly life proceeded.
c) When, about twenty years after the above-mentioned journey, Mary stood at the cross of
the Lord, she was alone, and she was entrusted by her Divine Son to His disciple John; and
“From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:27). Evidently, as the ancient
Christians also understood it, the Evangelists speak either of “half” brothers and sisters or
of cousins (The generally accepted Orthodox tradition is that the “brothers” and “sisters” of the Lord are the children
of Joseph by an earlier marriage. See Archbishop John Maximovitch, The Orthodox Veneraton of the Mother of
God, St. Herman Brotherhood, Platina, Ca., 1978, p. 24.).
B. The Most Holy Virgin Mary is Theotokos.
With the dogma of the Son of God’s becoming man is closely bound up the naming of the
Most Holy Virgin Mary as Theotokos (Birth giver of God). By this name the Church confirms its
faith that God the Word became Man truly and not merely in appearance; a faith that, in the Person
of the Lord Jesus Christ, God was joined to Man from the very instant of His conception in
the womb of the Virgin Mary, and that He, being perfect Man, is also perfect God.
At the same time the name of Theotokos is the highest name that exalts or glorifies the Virgin
The name “Theotokos” has a direct foundation in Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul writes:
a) “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal.
4:4). Here is expressed the truth that a woman gave birth to the Son of God b) “God was mani-fest an the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16): the flesh was woven for God the Word by the Most Holy Virgin
At the meeting of the Virgin Mary, after the Annunciation, with the righteous Elizabeth,
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spake out with aloud voice, and said: Blessed
art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence as this to me, that the
Mother of my Lord should come to me? And blessed is she that believed for there shall be a performance
of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:41-44). Thus Elizabeth,
being filled with the Holy Spirit, calls Mary the Mother of the Lord, the God of Heaven; it is precisely
the God of Heaven that she is here calling “Lord,” as is clear from her further words: “She
that believed… those things which were told her from the Lord” — the Lord God.
Concerning the birth of God from a virgin the Old Testament Scriptures speak: The Prophet
Ezekiel writes of his vision: “Then said the Lord unto me: 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 an by it,
therefore it shall be shut” (Ezek. 44:2).
The Prophet Isaiah prophesies: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall
call His name Immanuel, which is to say: God is with us ... For unto us a child is born, unto us a
son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Messenger
of great counsel, Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, Potentate, The Prince of Peace,
Father of the age to come” (Is. 7:14, and 9:6 Septuagint).
In the first centuries of the Church of Christ the truth of God the Word’s becoming man and
His birth of the Virgin Mary was the catholic faith Therefore, the Apostolic Fathers expressed
themselves thus: “Our God Jesus Christ was in the womb of Mary;” “God took flesh of the Virgin
Mary” (St. Ignatius the God bearer, St. Irenaeus). Exactly the same expressions were used by
Sts. Dionysius and Alexander of Alexandria (3rd and 4th centuries). The Fathers of the fourth century,
Sts. Athanasius, Ephraim the Syrian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gregory of Nyssa, called the
Most Holy Virgin the Theotokos.
In the fifth century, because of the heresy of Nestorius, the Church triumphantly confessed
the Most Holy Virgin Mary to be Mother of God at the Third Ecumenical Council, accepting and
confirming the following words of St. Cyril of Alexandria: “If anyone will not confess that Immanuel
is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is Theotokos, inasmuch as in the flesh she
bore the Word of God made flesh: let him be anathema” (Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils,
Blessed Theodoret also, who previously had been on friendly terms with Nestorius, when
later condemning his stubbornness in heresy wrote: “The first stage in these new teachings of
Nestorius was the opinion that the Holy Virgin, from whom God the Word took flesh and was
born in the flesh, should not be acknowledged as Theotokos but only as Christotokos; whereas
the ancient and most ancient proclaimers of the true Faith, in accordance with the Apostolic Tradition,
had taught that the Mother of the Lord should be named and confessed to be Theotokos.”
The Roman-Catholic dogma of the immaculate conception.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by a Bull of Pope Pius IX in
1854. The definition of this dogma says that the Most Holy Virgin Mary at the moment of her
conception was cleansed of ancestral sin. In essence this is a direct deduction from the Roman
teaching on original sin. According to the Roman teaching, the burden of the sin of our first ancestors
consists in the removal from mankind of a supernatural gift of grace. But here there arosea theological question: if mankind had been deprived of the gifts of grace, then how is one to understand
the words of the Archangel addressed to Mary: “Rejoice, thou that art full of grace, the
Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women . . . Thou hast found grace with God?” One
could only conclude that the Most Holy Virgin Mary had been removed from the general law of
the “deprivation of grace” and of the guilt of the sin of Adam. And since her life was holy from
her birth, consequently she received, in the form of an exception, a supernatural gift, a grace of
sanctity, even before her birth, that is, at her conception. Such a deduction was made by the Latin
theologians. They called this removal a “privilege” of the Mother of God One must note that the
acknowledgement of this dogma was preceded in the West by a long period of theological dispute,
which lasted from the 12th century, when this teaching appeared, until the 17th century,
when it was spread by Jesuits in the Roman Catholic world (Further on the Immaculate Conception, see
Archbishop John, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, pp. 35-47).
In 1950, the so-called Jubilee Year, the Roman Pope Pius XII triumphantly proclaimed a
second dogma, the dogma of the Assumption of the Mother of God with her body into heaven.
Dogmatically this teaching was deduced in Roman theology from the Roman dogma of the Immaculate
Conception and is a further logical deduction from the Roman teaching on original sin.
If the Mother of God was removed from the general law of original sin, this means that she was
given from her very conception supernatural gifts: righteousness and immortality, such as our
first ancestors had before their fall into sin, and she should not have been subject to the law of
bodily death. Therefore, if the Mother of God died, then, in the view of the Roman theologians,
she accepted death voluntarily so as to emulate her Son; but death had no dominion over her.
The declaration of both dogmas corresponds to the Roman theory of the “development of
dogmas.” The Orthodox Church does not accept the Latin system of arguments concerning original
sin. In particular, the Orthodox Church, confessing the perfect personal immaculateness and
perfect sanctity of the Mother of God, whom the Lord Jesus Christ by His birth from her made to
be more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim —
has not seen and does not see any grounds for the establishment of the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception in the sense of the Roman Catholic interpretation, although it does venerate the conception
of the Mother of God, as it does also the conception of the holy Prophet and Forerunner
On the one hand, we see that God did not deprive mankind, even after its fall, of His
grace-giving gifts, as for example, the words of the 50th Psalm indicate: “Take not Thy Holy
Spirit from me... With Thy governing Spirit establish me;” or the words of Psalm 70: “On Thee
have I been made fast from the womb; from my mother’s womb Thou art my protector.”
On the other hand, in accordance with the teaching of Sacred Scripture, in Adam all mankind
tasted the forbidden fruit. Only the God-man Christ begins with Himself the new mankind,
freed by Him from the sin of Adam. Therefore, He is called the “Firstborn among many brethren”
(Rom. 8:29), that is: the First in the new human race; He is the “new Adam.” The Most
Holy Virgin was born as subject to the sin of Adam together with all mankind, and with him she
shared the need for redemption (the Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, Par. 6). The pure and immaculate
life of the Virgin Mary up to the Annunciation by the Archangel, her freedom from personal
sins, was the fruit of the union of her spiritual labor upon herself and the abundance of
grace that was poured out upon her. “Thou hast found grace with God,” the Archangel said to
her in his greeting: “thou hast found,” that is, attained, acquired, earned. The Most Holy Virgin
Mary was prepared by the best part of mankind as a worthy vessel for the descent of God theWord to earth The coming down of the Holy Spirit (“the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee”) totally
sanctified the womb of the Virgin Mary for the reception of God the Word.
One must acknowledge that the very principle of a preliminary “privilege” is somehow not
in harmony with Christian concepts, for “there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:11).
As for the tradition concerning the assumption of the body of the Mother of God: the belief
in the assumption of her body after its burial does exist in the Orthodox Church. It is expressed in
the content of the service for the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and also in the
Confession of the Jerusalem Council of the Eastern Patriarchs in 1672. St. John Damascene in
his second homily on the Dormition relates that once the Empress Pulcheria (5th century), who
had built a church in Constantinople, asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Juvenalius, a participant
in the Council of Chalcedon, for relics of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to place in the church. Juvenalius
replied that, in accordance with ancient tradition, the body of the Mother of God had
been taken to heaven, and he joined to this reply the well-known account of how the Apostles
had been assembled in miraculous fashion for the burial of the Mother of God, how after the arrival
of the Apostle Thomas her grave had been opened and her body was not there, and how it
had been revealed to the Apostles that her body had ascended to heaven. Written church testimonies
on this subject date in general to a relatively late period (not earlier than the 6th century), and
the Orthodox Church, with all its respect for them, does not ascribe to them the significance of a
dogmatic source. The Church, accepting the tradition of the ascension of the body of the Mother
of God, has not regarded and does not regard this pious tradition as one of the fundamental truths
or dogmas of the Christian faith.
The cult of the “immaculate heart” of the Holy Virgin.
In a way similar to the veneration of the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus, there has been established
by the Roman Church the cult of the “immaculate heart of the Most Holy Virgin,” which has received
a universal dissemination. In essence one can say of it the same thing that was said above
about the veneration of the heart of Jesus.