The Ever-Virgin Mary/Synaxis of the Holy Theotokos/Dec. 26th

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nick cobb

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Dec 25, 2001, 10:55:37 PM12/25/01
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The Ever-Virgin Mary

The gospels teach and the liturgy proclaims that Jesus Christ was born
on earth from the Virgin Mary. According to the “mind of Christ” which
is given to believers by the in-dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor
2), it is evident that it could not be otherwise. The reason is simple.
Jesus is the Son of God. God is His Father from all eternity. If there
is anything unique, original, totally unprecedented in the scrip-tures,
and absolutely undeniable about the teaching of Jesus Himself, it is
this: He, and only He, can call the Most High God, Abba, Father! He does
so in the pages of the gospels nearly two hundred times.

Jesus’ father is God. Therefore He can have no human father. He has to
be born of a virgin. Saint Matthew sees the virgin birth as the
fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall
conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which
means, God with us)” (Mt 1:23; Is 7:14). Although scholars dispute the
word “virgin” in this text, saying that it can also mean “young woman,”
it is clear from the Greek word used by the evangel-ist, as well as from
his entire narrative, that he literally means a virgin who has had no
intercourse with a human husband.’

1Some also claim that the Isaiah text has nothing to do with the birth
of Jesus but indicates a happening in the prophets own time. Whether or
not this is so has little to do with the use of the text in the gospels
since, in classical Christian interpretation, the prophets need not know
the ultimate meaning of their words, and many historical events in
Israel’s history are taken as “types” or “figures” of events to take
place later, with a totally new meaning, in the messianic age. It is
interesting to note that the prophet’s words to Ahaz, “The Lord Himself
will give you a sign,” have given rise in Orthodox tradition to the name
for the icon of the Virgin Mary with her hands extended in the praying
position and the Christ Child depicted within her. It is called the
“Theotokos of the Sign,” or simply the icon of “the Sign.”

Although there are certain discrepancies between the in-fancy narratives
in the gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, there is no discrepancy
at all concerning the virgin birth of Jesus. Saint Luke gives the story
in greatest detail. Mary asks the angel directly about how the birth can
take place when she says, “I have no husband” (Lk 1:34). We all know the
angel’s answer.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will
overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the
Son of God.” (Lk 1:35)

Church tradition claims that Saint Luke received the story of Christ’s
birth from Mary herself, seeing in his statement, “and His mother kept
all these things in her heart,” a not-SO-veiled reference to the source
of his information (Lk 2:51). But whatever the case, his teaching is
clear. The Messiah is God’s Son who has no human father (see Lk 3:23).

A great and marvelous wonder has happened today: A virgin bears a child
And her womb suffers no corruption. The Word is made flesh Yet does not
cease to dwell with the Father. Angels with shepherds give glory, And
with them we cry aloud: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace.2

2Compline of the feast of the Nativity. The use of expressions such as
“without corruption” or “without defilement” for the birth of Christ and
the womb of Mary are “ontological” not “ethical” statements. The point
is that Christ’s birth takes place in a miraculous manner, leaving
Mary’s virginity intact. This in no way compromises the reality of the
birth as “opening Mary’s womb” since the gospel claims that her womb was
opened (Lk 2:23), and the icons of the feast depict midwives washing the
newborn Christ Child. The Church opposes any attempt to deny, or even to
minimize, the genuiness of Christ’s humanity, which is officially
defined by the fourth ecumenical council in Chalcedon as identical to
our own.

Why are you filled with wonder, 0 Mary? Why are you amazed at what has
happened in you? ‘I have given birth in time to the timeless Son, Yet I
do not understand how I conceived Him. I have not known a man; How then
could I bear a child? Who has ever seen a birth without seed? But as it
is written: ‘When God wills, the order of nature is overcome.” Christ is
born of the Virgin in Bethlehem of Judea!3

It is also the Church’s teaching, following the scripture, that Mary
remained a virgin all of her life. She never knew a man. And she never
had any other children besides the Lord Jesus. Once again, this
conviction is not only defended on the basis of the biblical record, but
it is also understood to be a theological truth inspired by the Holy
Spirit which is mystic-ally proper and spiritually evident to those with
“the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).4

The Bible never mentions Mary having any children but Jesus. There is no
text that even remotely indicates such a thing. Jesus’ “brothers and
sisters” are mentioned, but there is no explicit statement that these
are Mary’s children. The traditional interpretation from the earliest
times in the Church is that these are either cousins of Jesus or
children of Joseph by another marriage.5 It is known that Joseph was
much older than Mary, and that he died before Jesus began to preach.
When hanging on the Cross, Jesus formally commended His mother to the
beloved disciple John, which would have been a meaningless act if his
“brethren” were in fact Mary’s own children (Jn 19:26-27).

3Matins of the feast of the Nativity. 4The text in Saint Matthew’s
gospel that Joseph “knew her not until she had borne a son” (Mt 1:25) is
considered to be a Semitic idiom which in no way implies that he “knew
her” after the son was born. Saint John Chrysostom, himself from
Antioch, presents other such idioms from the Bible which illus-trate
this point. See Chrysostom, On Matthew, homily V, 5-6. 5The Church
solemnly affirms that Jesus had “brothers and sisters,” calling Saint
James, who is liturgically celebrated on the Sunday after the Nativity,
“the brother of the Lord.”

The spiritual evidence and mystical meaning of Mary’s ever-virginity,
which was witnessed as Church dogma by the fifth ecumenical council in
553 and is endlessly repeated in the Church’s liturgical worship, is
overpowering to the minds and hearts of believers. It is simply
inconceivable to the saints that the woman who gave birth by the Holy
Spirit to God’s divine Son, His Word and Wisdom, His Express Image and
the Radiance of His Glory, should then proceed normally to mother more
children in the usual manner, There is no depre-ciation of childbirth
here, and certainly no disgust for the sexual union.6 There is rather
the clear understanding of the uniqueness of Mary, the one “blessed
among women,” whom “all generations will call . . . blessed,” given to
the Church as the living image of all those who are saved because they
“hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 1:42, 48; 11:28). The place of
Mary in God’s plan of salvation affirms her ever-virginity more than any
particular biblical text or any specific scriptural reference for those
who have come to know her in the mystical life of the Church.

Behold, the Virgin, as was said of old, Has conceived in her womb And
has brought forth God as a man, Yet she remains still a virgin. Being
reconciled to God through her, Let us sinners sing her praises, For
truly she is Theotokos.7

How is He contained in a womb Whom nothing can contain? How can He be
held in the arms of His mother Who remains forever in the bosom of His
Father? It is according to His good will, As He knows and as He desires!
For being without flesh, He of His own good will has been made flesh;
And HE WHO IS has for our sake become what - He was not.

6See above, pp. 41-43 7Matins of the feast of the Nativity.

He has shared our nature without departing from His own. Desiring to
fill the world on high with citizens, Christ has undergone a twofold
birth!8

He who before the morning star Was begotten of the Father without a
mother, Is made flesh on earth today without a father from you. A star
announces the glad tidings to the wise men, While angels with shepherds
sing the praises of your child-bearing without corruption, You who are
full of grace !9

8Matins of the feast of the Nativity and sung again at matins on the
third day of Christmas, the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr.
The HE WHO IS in the hymn is a reference to God’s Name which was
revealed to Moses (see Ex3:14). 9Kontakion of the second day of the
Nativity, the feast of the synaxis (or assembly) of the Theotokos,
written by Saint Romanos the Hymnographer.

[Taken from, “The Winter Pascha” by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, SVS
Press, 1984. Available at: 800-204-book.]

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