Mary is the Theotokos,
the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God. She conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was cared for by her betrothed husband, Joseph, who took the child and his mother into his home as his own. One very strong tradition in the Orthodox Church holds that the birth of Jesus was also miraculous and left Mary's virginity intact as a sign; it is also
the tradition of the Church that Joseph and Mary did not have relations after the birth of Jesus. She is also called Panagia, the "All-Holy," indicating her closeness to God in her obedience.
The title Theotokos (in Greek, Θεοτοκος) is a Greek word that
means "God-bearer" or "Birth-giver to God."
The Title Theotokos:
at the Third Ecumenical Council
As a title for the Virgin Mary, Theotokos was recognized by the Orthodox Church at Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. It had already been in use for some time in the devotional
and liturgical life of the Church. The theological significance of the title is to emphasize that Mary's son, Jesus, is fully
God, as well as fully human, and that Jesus' two natures (divine and human) were united in a single Person of the Trinity. The competing view at that council was that Mary should be called Christotokos instead, meaning "Birth-giver to Christ." This was the view advocated by Nestorius, then Patriarch of Constantinople. The intent behind calling her Christotokos was
to restrict her role to be only the mother of "Christ's humanity" and not his divine nature.
Nestorius' view was anathematized by the Council as heresy, (see Nestorianism), since it was considered to be dividing Jesus into two distinct persons, one who was Son of Mary, and another, the divine
nature, who was not. It was defined that although Jesus has two natures, human and divine, these are eternally united in one
personhood. Because Mary is the mother of God the Son, she is therefore duly entitledTheotokos.
Calling Mary the Theotokos or the Mother of God (Μητηρ
Θεου) was never meant to suggest that Mary was coeternal with God, or that she existed before Jesus Christ
or God existed. The Church acknowledges the mystery in the words of this ancient hymn: "He whom the entire universe could
not contain was contained within your womb, O Theotokos."
The title "Theotokos" continues to be used frequently in the hymns of the Orthodox Church.
the word Theotokos While
some languages used by various Orthodox churches often have a single native word forTheotokos, it gets translated into
English in a number of ways. The most common is Mother of God, though God-bearer and Birth-giver
to God are also fairly common. There are difficulties with all these translations,
however. The most literally correct one is Birth-giver to God, though God-bearer comes close. Theophoros (Θεοφορος)
is the Greek term usually and more correctly translated as God-bearer,
so using God-bearer for Theotokos in some sense "orphans" Theophoros when it comes time to translate that term (for St. Ignatius of Antioch, for instance). The main difficulties with both these translations for Theotokos is that they are a bit awkward and difficult to sing.
The most popular translation, Mother
of God, is accurate to a point, but the difficulty with that one is that Mother
of God is the literal translation of another Greek phrase which is found
on nearly all icons of the Theotokos: Μητηρ Θεου (Meter
Theou), usually in the standard iconographic abbreviation of ΜΡ ΘΥ.
Additionally, a number of hymns employ both Theotokos and Meter Theou—translating both as Mother
of God can yield some rather nonsensical language, and it destroys the distinction
that the hymnographer intended.
The usage that seems to be dominant in English-speaking Orthodox
churches in North America is to adopt the original term itself into English (something English speakers have traditionally
done with foreign words almost since the earliest known history of the language), transliterating it simply as Theotokos.
British usage gives preference to translating Theotokos as Mother of God.
The Full Title of Mary:
The title Our
All-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary (Greek:
Τῆς Παναγίας, ἀχράντου, ὑπερευλογημένης,
ἐνδόξου, δεσποίνης ἡμῶν
Θεοτόκου καὶ ἀειπαρθένου
Μαρίας) is often used in Orthodox services when Mary is mentioned.
- 1. All-holy
- The title Panagia (all-holy) never was a subject of
dogmatic definition, but it is accepted and used by all Orthodox. This is because she is the supreme example of cooperation
between God and the free will of man. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Sometimes Mary is called the New
Eve because her obedient submission to the will of God offset Eve's disobedience
- 2. Immaculate
- The Orthodox Church calls Mary "immaculate," "pure,"
or "spotless" (achrantos in Greek). Some Orthodox state that she was
free from actual sin, some say she never sinned, and others just say she died sinless.
- As for original sin and the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Orthodox Church has never made any formal and definitive pronouncement on the subject. The majority of Orthodox have
rejected the doctrine, for it seems to separate Mary from the rest of mankind, putting her in a completely different class
from all the other righteous men and women of the Old Testament. It is important that Mary was the same as all mankind so that all Christians can follow her example and submit to God's
will. Mary was born a sinner, a human with full human nature. Mary’s Son, Jesus the Christ, took flesh from her. So
as Son of God, He assumed fallen human nature from her and redeemed humanity by His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Also, the
original doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (1869) implies an understanding of original sin not held by the Orthodox Church.
- 3. Most
blessed and glorified Lady
- The Orthodox Church honors the Mother of God on account
of the Son. St. Cyril of Alexandria, along with the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, insisted on calling Mary "Theotokos" not just to glorify her, but to safeguard
a right doctrine of Christ's person, theIncarnation. Orthodox Christians feel that one cannot really believe in the Incarnation and not honor Mary.
- 4. the
- See above. This is often translated as "the Mother
- 5. ever
- See below. The Orthodox Church honors Mary as "ever
Virgin." In iconography, her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ is represented by three stars on her shoulders and forehead.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE THEOTOKOS TO MAN'S DEIFICATION
By Archimandrite George
Abbott of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios on Mount Athos
So, the Lord Jesus gives
us this possibility, to unite with God, and return to the primal purpose,
which God ordained for man. This is why He is described in Holy
Scripture as the way, the door, the good shepherd, the life, the
resurrection, the light. He is the new Adam, who rights the wrong of the
first Adam. The first Adam separated us from God with his disobedience
and his egotism. With His love, and His obedience to the Father,
obedience unto death, to ‘death on the cross’, the second Adam, Christ,
brings us back once more to God. He once again orients our freedom
towards God, so that, by offering it to Him, we unite with Him.
But the work of the new Adam pre-supposes the work of the new Eve, the
Panaghia who, as well, put right the wrong done by the old Eve. Eve
drove Adam to disobedience. The new Eve, the Panaghia, contributes to
the incarnation of the new Adam who will guide the human race towards
obedience to God. For this reason, as the first human person who
achieved theosis – in an exceptional and indeed unrepeatable, way – the
Lady Theotokos played a role in our salvation, which was not only
fundamental, but also necessary and irreplaceable.
the saintly Nicholas Cabasilas, the great 14th century theologian, had
the Panaghia, in her obedience, not offered her freedom to God – had she
not said ‘yes’ to God – God would not have been able to incarnate.
Because God, who had given freedom to man, would not have been able to
violate it. He would not have been able to incarnate had there not been
such a pure, all-holy, immaculate psyche as the Theotokos, who would
completely offer her freedom, her will, all of herself to God, so as to
draw Him towards herself and towards us.
We owe much to the
Panaghia. This is why our Church honours and venerates the Theotokos.
This is why St. Gregory Palamas, summarizing Patristic theology, says
that our Panaghia holds the second place after the Holy Trinity; that
she is god after God; the borderline between the created and the
uncreated. ‘She leads those being saved’, according to another fine
expression by a theologian of our Church. And St. Nicodemus of the Holy
Mountain, the steadfast luminary and teacher of the Church, pointed out
that the angelic ranks themselves are illumined by the light they
receive from the Panaghia.
This is why she is praised by our
Church as ‘more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more
glorious than the Seraphim’.
The incarnation of the Logos and the Theosis of man are the great mystery of our
Faith and Theology.
Our Orthodox Church lives this every day with its Mysteries, its hymns,
its icons, its whole life. Even the architecture of an Orthodox Church
witnesses to this. The great dome of the churches, on which the
Pantocrator is painted, symbolises the descent of Heaven to earth; it
tells us that the Lord ‘bent down the Heavens and descended’. The
Evangelist St. John writes that God became man ‘and dwelt among us’ (Jn.
And because He became man through the Theotokos, we
depict the Theotokos in the apse of the altar, to indicate that through
her God comes to earth and to men. She is ‘the bridge by which God
descended’, and again, ‘she who conducts those of earth to Heaven’, the
apse of the heavens, the space of the uncontainable, who contained the
uncontainable God within herself for our salvation.
continue, our Church depicts deified men: those who became gods by Grace
because God became man. This is why in our Orthodox churches we can
depict not only the incarnate God, Christ, and His immaculate Mother,
the Lady Theotokos, but also the saints around and below the
Pantocrator. On all the walls of the Church we paint the results of
God’s incarnation: the sainted and deified men.
entering an Orthodox Church and seeing the beautiful icons of saints,
we immediately receive and experience: we relize the work of God on
man's behalf and the purpose of our life.
Everything in the Church speaks of the incarnation of God and the deification