When I was a young student of the church - exhilarated by the Holy Call to
service, filled with curiosity, but sure that I already knew everything - I
had opportunities to meet regularly with my teacher, His Grace Bishop John.
When we met, I usually asked tough questions first. He would answer in some
way. Then I would ask another and another.
Once I asked, "Why do we need
to believe in a virgin birth? Does it really
matter?" He sighed and paused for a time, took off his glasses and rubbed
his eyes, and, with eyes closed, looked toward the heavens, as he had done
so many times before. I was delighted, for this usually meant a thorough
and clear answer. This time, however, he said something that was not
particularly clear nor thorough, but it changed my entire attitude and my
entire approach to understanding Holy Orthodoxy. Not that I changed
immediately, but his response has grown in me through the years with such
gentleness that I still use his teaching to this day.
He said, "I could give you an answer, one that would satisfy your
and be theologically sound, but the Truth is a mystery. As it is a mystery,
it cannot be understood by the intellect alone - so you must pray for
understanding and spiritually prepare for insight. And if God is merciful
to you, He may give you insight into that mystery during your life." Then
His Grace asked some mundane questions about the progress of my studies and
did not return to the topic.
For years, I prayed for understanding and strived for spiritual progress
with little insight into virgin birth. I started paying greater attention
to biblical passages and references among the Church Fathers. I listened
with greater intensity to Orthodox hymns and prayers written for Holy Mary,
the Ever-Virgin Birth-giver of God. I do not believe that I have yet been
given the full answer to my query as a young student, but I will share
some of my understanding - and, as any Truth or Goodness belongs to Holy
Orthodoxy for the glory of God, my human presentation may only confuse. So,
I would ask of all who may read this to follow the advice of old Bishop John
- "Pray for understanding." If my words assist anyone in understanding then
praise be to God, but if my words bring any confusion to the mystery through
my inaccuracy and faults, then I will be honored by your reliance on the
Holy Spirit for discernment.
The appreciation and honor given to Mary is intimately wrapped up in the
salvation of the human race, indeed the entire creation. As the worldly
mother of Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully God, she is also the
earthly mother of God - the Creator becomes a creature for our salvation.
One summer in the 1990s, I was studying with a Native American tribe in
Northern Wisconsin. One elder from Red Cliff, Walt Bresette, was talking
about how different races needed to get along because "the white people have
plenty of boats to go back to their homeland, but they ain't leaving!"
So, I asked, "How many generations in this land does it take to be Native
"When you honor the earth as your mother, then you are Native American,"
responded, to the pleasure of all attending that session. I was impressed
with his answer and I saw something in his words that Holy Orthodoxy
Mary, a created human being, like all human beings formed from the dust
the earth, becomes a symbol of all creation. Then, at the incarnation,
becomes a vessel for God to restore all creation. In our honor and
veneration of Mary, we must also respect all creation, the earth and all
that live here. In a sense, we must all become "Native Americans" - but
more properly, we must all become as Mary, who is also called the New Eve
being the redemption of the first Eve, integral to the restoration of
creation from Eden's exile.
St. Justin the Martyr wrote in the Second Century, "The Son of God became
man through the Virgin, that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be
destroyed in the same way it had originated."
Another Second Century Father, St. Irenaeus, wrote, "Just as Eve, while
still a wife of Adam, was a virgin and became by her disobedience the cause
of death of herself and the whole human race, so Mary too, espoused yet a
virgin, became by her obedience, the cause of salvation of both herself and
the whole human race."
Holy Mary becomes, not only mother of God, but also mother to us all.
Symbolically, we are also born again because of her - through her humble
subordination. But this new life in Christ is a life beyond this earthly
We remember the Saints at their birth into the everlasting life by
celebrating the day of their departure from this life, the day of their
earthly death. So we also remember Holy Mary at her departure. We remember
and celebrate the mystery of her, whose very flesh was the very flesh of
Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven after rising from the dead in that
human body and who we call the first born of the dead at Easter. (Another
"The source of life is laid in the grave and her tomb becomes a ladder to
heaven," sing the Greek Orthodox on the holy day of St. Mary's assumption
into heaven. Her soul is portrayed in ancient iconography as being carried
to heaven as a child in the arms of her Son and her Savior, Jesus Christ.
This image comes from the story passed to us in Holy Orthodoxy as a vision
of the Apostles who gathered at her tomb. It is not dogmatic, but has
within it spiritual affirmation of the eternal nature of Truth.
Eternity is a cycle. The circle is a symbol of eternity. Tracing a circle
can proceed without angular interruption. With Holy Mary, we are given
profound closure in circular patterns.
In her birth-giving of God, she is the New Eve, the closure of our time
exile from Eden. A circle is closed as the old Eve and the new Eve, Mary,
were each asked an angelic question: one answered to the expulsion from
paradise and the way back was lost; the other answered and the way to
paradise is restored. Eve's punishment was to labor in human childbirth.
Mary labored in childbirth and bore God in the flesh, our very Lord and
Jesus Christ is the Salvation of Holy Mary as much as for any of us and
it is the completion of a circle that she would be carried in the arms of
her Lord to heaven, not having to wait. It is also a circle completed in
that Holy Mary Mother of God would be the first in heaven before Christ's
return when all human beings will be judged by their life in this world and
the promise of everlasting life is complete.
Let us run to the arms of Holy Mary, Mother of God, mother of all those
who follow the Truth, asking her to pray for us - for no flesh was closer to
the Divine than hers, and her relationship to Christ closer than that of any
We believe that the places closest to Christ in this world are the
churches. Here is the wondrous use of symbolism - that church building is
also a symbol of Mary, she who is called by the Fathers "the throne of God."
The altar, or thronose, is a place where the mystery of incarnation is
re-enacted regularly and we partake of the Holy Communion with Christ by
approaching that altar.
So we ask Holy Theotokos to pray for us and we hold her above all others
commemorations. Theotokos is the Greek word that translates to Mother of God
or God-bearer. Aren't all churches to be theotokos? Aren't we all to be
theotokos, that is, temples of God?
Recalling the admonition of honor by that Native American Ojibwe elder,
Bresette, I am reminded of the words of St. Cyprian, written so long ago,
that state plainly, "No one can take God as his Father unless he takes the
Church as his mother."
May we all be guided to the understanding of the Truth wrapped in the
mysteries preserved for us by Holy Orthodoxy. May we honor all mothers as
those that emulate creation and which can, because the assent of the virgin
Mary that changed all of creation, bear the very essence of our salvation.
May we have boldness as children of God through Christ, and ask Holy Mary to
pray for us and help us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
(Originally written for the occasion of the silver jubilee
of St. Mary's
Orthodox Church (Detroit) August 2004 - a version of this article published
in their anniversary souvenir book)
Annunciation to St. Mary
Annunciation reminds us that Mary obeyed God and willingly submitted to God's will and helped to take away the
curse that has brought about suffering and death. She became the WOMAN whose
son took away the sins of humanity and abolished death. So Mary provided a
body to God who is spirit, so that he can suffer on our behalf and die.
Mother of God
In this ground-breaking work, Cicily Sunny presents the results from her life-long search for Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. It contains information, that was not known before or was not widely known. There are
detailed visions of the end of the world and the shape of the coming Kingdom.
Answers to God's Mysteries
The author of this important spiritual work, says that the Holy Spirit helps us to unfold mysteries through selected spiritual people such as prophets in old testament times. These mysteries are revealed mostly through visions and dreams.
The Merit of Joseph
Joseph was not ashamed to honor his old father by owning him before his master. Not only was he willing to identify with his old father, but he