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Question 15

Hi Father  Is it true that the Roman Catholics overdo it when it comes to the veneration of the Virgin Mary? This was according to what an orthodox priest once told me. He said we should not honour her too much like the Catholics or too little or nothing at all like what the protestants do. However, it appears from our Church literature that we honour her as much as the Catholics if not more. The person of the Panagia is held in awe by us Orthodox. Please may you clarify what the Orthodox position regarding Mary, the Mother of God is and the proper place we should accord her?  


Answer to Question 15


The Mother of God holds a special place in the Orthodox Church. She is exalted above all the saints and the heavenly angels and praised with hymns like: ‘More honourable than the cherubim and past compare more glorious than the seraphim, who inviolate didst bear God the Word; Very Mother of God thee we magnify’.


In all the Church services, she is called by her full title: Our Most Holy and undefiled, most blessed and glorious Lady, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. The Church constantly reminds us of her unique relationship with the Son of God, who didst deign to be incarnate, taking of her flesh, thus becoming the Son of the Virgin.


The high degree of veneration should not be misunderstood in thinking that the Church regards her as a substitute for Christ, who is our only Saviour. The devotion given to the Mother of God has its root in her unique position amongst men. The more we glorify the Mother of God, the more we glorify the Son of God, for it is because of the Son that we glorify the mother. Her holiness is seen in that she contained in her womb, the divine glory of the Son of God and became a ladder reaching up to heaven, thus uniting heaven and earth, the uncreated with the created.


It was through the Mother of God that the incarnation became possible. God became a man voluntarily to save mankind, but to do this, He needed the free consent of His mother; thus the incarnation was the work of the will of God and the free will of man, a synergy [cooperation] of two wills: God’s and the Virgin’s. Without the one or the other, the salvation of man could not become possible and we would still live in the shadow of death. The Mother of God became the doorway to heaven, which had been shut through the sin of Adam. Both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic church hold the Mother of God in high esteem, but with a difference. On the 8th of December 1854 Pope Pius IX presented the “dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary” This dogma holds that from the first instant of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a most singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, preserved from all stain of Original Sin. It is a doctrine revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and steadfastly believed by all the faithful. As the Pope is infallible and cannot err then the dogma must be true.


For the Orthodox Church this dogma is totally ludicrous and even blasphemous. because then Mary would no longer belong to the human race. The dogma breaks Mary’s link to Adam and the rest of humanity and makes her a super person with the attributes that we ascribe only to Christ. We can even say that it makes her God incarnate, thus Joachim would not have been her father and Anna, her mother, would have been the Mother of God. God himself would not have needed to become man to save us, because if Mary was born outside of original sin or rather we should say without the consequences of the original sin, she would have been a perfect human being, thus not needing to be saved and we could all find salvation through her.


On the other hand, the Orthodox Church believes that Mary was born with the consequences of the original sin just like every other human being, but was cleansed of this the moment she accepted to become the Mother of God. How this was possible is not for us to ask, but remains one of the mysteries of salvation. All we need to know is that the Holy Spirit prepared the Virgin Mary for her role as the Mother of God. She was filled with the Uncreated Energy of the Holy Spirit of God in order that she might be a worthy vessel for the birth of Christ. One can try to explain this cleansing of original sin with the Mystery of Baptism. When we are baptized, we are immersed into the water, which signifies the death of the Old Adam, the death of the body that inherited the fallen nature. When we are raised from the water, we are joined to the Resurrection Body of Christ. In a similar manner, with the annunciation story where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, one can interpret this as a form of baptism that cleansed Mary from the inheritance of the fall and prepared her to receive God in her womb. What is definite is that God could not have taken His abode in Mary’s womb if her body still had the scars of original sin, because God can have no part with sin.