St. John Maximovitch writes, “From Apostolic Times and to our days all who truly love Christ give veneration to Her Who gave birth to Him, raised Him and protected Him in the days of His youth. If God the Father chose Her, God the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, and God the Son dwelt in Her, submitted to Her in the days of His youth, was concerned for Her when hanging on the Cross — then should not everyone who confesses the Holy Trinity venerate Her?
The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God (p. 21)
A short but precious book, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God (St. Herman Press) is given to us by St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco. Orthodox seekers and strugglers alike might find this book to be the bright candle that sheds both historical and pastoral light on the necessity of our veneration of the Mother of God, not just the permissibility. What follows is only the tip of the iceberg and will not compare in value to reading the complete book.
Old Testament Prefigurations
We Orthodox believe there are several Old Testament prefigurations of the Virgin Mary. Some of these include: “The rod of Aaron that budded, the rock torn away from the mountain without hands, seen by Nebuchadnezzar in a dream and interpreted by the Prophet Daniel, the closed gate seen by the Prophet Ezekiel, and much else in the Old Testament prefigured the birth-giving Virgin. Just as Adam had been created by the Word of God from the unworked and virgin earth, so also the Word of God created flesh for Himself from a virgin womb when the Son of God became the new Adam so as to correct the fall into sin of the first Adam.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Book III, quoted by St. John Maximovitch, p 30)
The Meaning of “until…”
“The pure life of Mary was a reproach for those who were impure also in their thoughts. So as to show themselves Christians, they did not dare deny that Christ was born of a Virgin, but they began to affirm that Mary remained a virgin only until She brought forth Her firstborn son, Jesus (Matt. 1:25). After the birth of Jesus, said the false teacher Helvidius in the 4th century, and likewise many others before and after him, ‘Mary entered into conjugal life with Joseph and had from him children, who are called in the Gospels ‘the brothers and sisters of Christ.’ But the word ‘until‘ does not signify that Mary remained a virgin only until a certain time. The word ‘until‘ and words similar to it often signify eternity. In the Sacred Scripture it is said of Christ: ‘In His days shall shine forth righteousness and an abundance of peace, until the moon be taken away’ (Ps 71:7), but this does not mean that when there shall no longer be a moon at the end of the world, God’s righteousness shall not longer be…And what does it mean when it says: For He must reign , until He hath put all enemies under His feet? (I Cor. 15:25). Is the Lord then to reign only for the time until His enemies shall be under His feet?!…[see also Psalm 122:2; Matt 28:20] (p 32)
“Mother of God” or “Mother of Christ”?
“In the 5th century the Archbishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, began to preach that of Mary had been born only the man Jesus, in Whom the Divinity had taken abode and dwelt in Him as in a temple…he himself began to teach openly in church that one should not call Mary ‘Theotokos’ [Birthgiver of God], since She had not given birth to the God-man. He considered it demeaning for himself to worship a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” After multiple failed attempts to rebuke Nestorius from the way of heresy, “…It was decided to convene an Ecumenical Council, at which hierarchs, gathered from the ends of the world, should decide whether the faith preached by Nestorius was Orthodox. The result of this, the Third Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in 431 ‘…clearly expressed its faith that Christ, born of the Virgin, is the true God Who became man; and inasmuch as Mary gave birth to the perfect Man Who was at the same time perfect God, she rightly should be revered as THEOTOKOS [Mother of God]…He who does not confess Immanuel to be true God and therefore the Holy Virgin to be Theotokos, because She gave birth in the flesh to the Word Who is from God the Father and Who became flesh, let him be anathema (separated from the Church)’ (First Anathema of St. Cyril of Alexandria)”(p 41).
Rejection of Immaculate Conception and other novel Roman Catholic views
The Orthodox Church firmly rejects the “Immaculate Conception” teaching which asserts “the All-blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of Her Conception, by the special grace of Almighty God and by ta special privilege, for the sake of the future merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin” (Bull of Pope Pius IX concerning the new dogma). This is a novel doctrine stating “…by the Grace of God, [Mary] was placed in a state where it was impossible for Her to have personal sins.”(p 47).
This matter is addressed in chapter VI of the book and is whole-heartedly recommended to the reader for its comprehensive yet concise treatment on this false teaching. The book explain this better than here, but in summary, the teaching of Immaculate Conception of Mary is:
- Not found in Sacred Scripture. This is an addition to the teachings received from Christ and Apostles from “zeal not according knowledge” (Romans 10:2) and “sometimes by deviating into superstitious and into the ‘contradictions of knowledge falsely so called'”. (I Tim 6:20) (p50). For Scripture teaching only Christ is sinless, see also I Tim. 2:5; I John 3:5; I Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15; II Cor 5:21: Job 14:4 (p 61)
- Not consistent with Sacred Tradition. “None of the Holy Fathers say that God in miraculous fashion purified the Virgin Mary while yet in the womb; and many directly indicate that the Virgin Mary, just as all men, endured a battle with sinfulness, but was victorious over temptations and was saved by Her Divine Son.” (p51)
- Novel beginning around 9-12th centuries in the West (p 48)
- Was not accepted by all even in the Roman Catholic Church (p 48)
Similarly, the Orthodox Church rejects novel teachings about the Virgin Mary such as Co-Redemptress and any other exaltation that gives her equality with God (p 52)”. St. Ephiphanius of Cyprus echos the teaching of the Orthodox Church when he says “Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord…One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin (St. Ephiphanius, “Against the Antidikomarionites”) (pp 53-54).
“A Fitting Measure and Fitting Place”
“The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been communicated about Her in by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. ‘Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place.'” (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov) (p 54).