About St.Mary and the 1st Xmas
By Rev. Fr. John K.K
I earnestly desire to briefly ponder over and share with you the different characters that played important roles in the first Christmas excluding Holy Spirit.
(1) Gabriel, the angel who unravels God’s plan of Incarnation, Lk 1: 28.
(2) Virgin Mary who receives and accepts God’s redemptive plan,Lk, 1:27.
(3) Elizabeth, Virgin Mary’s relative who salutes and proclaims Mary as “Mother of my Lord,” Lk 1:43.
(4) Joseph, the just, betrothed husband of Mary, Mat 1: 24.
(5) Augustus Caesar, Emperor of Rome who decrees census, Lk 2:1-5.
(6) The Angels, Mat 1:20, Lk 2:10, Lk 2:13-14, Mat 2:13 Mat 2:19-20.
(7) Shepherds, who first witness the Divine Birth, Lk 2:15.
(8) Star, which guided wise men from the East, Mat 2:2.
(9) Wise men from the East who worship the Child Jesus and abide by the divine message, Mat 2:12.
(10) Simeon, the just and devout old man who takes up infant Jesus in his arms testifies that he saw the salvation of the Lord and predicts that the child will be the light to the gentiles and glory of Israel, Lk 2: 29-32.
(11) Anna, the old prophetess who upon seeing the infant Jesus glorifies God and speaks of Him to those looked for the redemption of Jerusalem, Lk 2: 32-38.
(12) Herod, the King who out of fear and conceit shows interest to see the child and later orders infanticide, Mat 2:16.
(13) Infants who are put to death by the royal decree, Mat 2:16. The infants do not directly share in the process of incarnation. According to venerable Church fathers, they are the first martyrs who inherited heaven for the cause of Christ.
There are two conspicuous instances without mention of ‘appearing angels’ in Mat 2:12 and Mat 2:22. In the absence of a statement or circumstance to the contrary and crediting the fact that God’s providence is unfathomable to the limited human wisdom I hold that God Almighty employed direct instructions. I do however exclude Holy Spirit, “power of the Highest,” who “came upon” Mary and initiated the process of Incarnation, Lk 1:35, in the list of ‘characters’ for, He is uncreated God, not of human origin.
I fervently desire to write distinct article on each of the above characters in order of preference for the benefit of our youngsters, later. Now I would indite concisely on St. Mary (number 2). I construe nothing else can be more a blessing than to write about the one who was “highly favored one” and whom the angel saluted, “Blessed are you among women,” Luke 1:28. Angel being God’s messenger, I have no reason to cogitate the authenticity of this salutation. Yes, the angel was indubitably conveying God’s words. Elizabeth is the first human being, filled with Holy Sprit, to address her ‘blessed.’ Mary filled with Holy Spirit rightly affirms, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” Lk 1:48. So any dutiful Christian ought to uphold the truth of the ‘Word of God’ and call her ‘blessed.’ Early Christian fathers exalted and honored her name just next to none but Jesus Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and Alexandria and St. Saverius of Antioch are just a few venerable early fathers to mention. Even some of the early Protestants upheld this fact. Unfortunately, some ultra modern liberal factions consider it unnecessary and teach deviant versions to confuse the faithful.
Holy fathers defined and explained the position of St. Mary in the light of controversies surrounding Christology namely, the nature, attributes and deity of Jesus Christ, which emanated right at the end of first century. Gnosticism deserves special mention. Docetists followed, to deny the perfect human nature of Jesus Christ and argued that Jesus had no real and natural body. Apostle St. John defended this heresy by writing, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out in the world. By this you know the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of Antichrist,” 1 John 4: 1-3. He begins the Epistle with the declaration: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled,” 1 John 1:1-3. Some argued ‘He’ being perfect man ‘virgin birth’ was impossible.
St. Ignatius defended saying, “The virginity of Mary, her giving birth and also the death of the Lord, were hidden from the prince of this world: three major mysteries loudly proclaimed,” Letter to Ephesians. This conception did not impair virginity of Mary which fact is attested in ‘Apostle’s Creed.’ St. Augustine wrote, “We must except the holy Virgin Mary. Out of respect for the Lord, I do not intent to raise a single question on the subject of sin. After all, how do we know what abundance of grace was granted to her who had the merit to conceive and bring forth Him who was unquestionably without sin,” (Nature and Grace Ch. 36). St. Irenaeus says that ‘Virgin Mary through obedience was able to cause salvation to herself and for the whole human race,’ (Against heresies).
Mor Cyril, Mor Saverious Of Antioch, Mor Aphrem and all early fathers and doctors of the Church taught that St. Mary was undoubtedly “the God bearer” (Theotokos). Mor Athanesius the Great is credited having first used the term, ‘Theotokos.’
Arian heresy is another landmark. He said, ‘Christ is not the Son of God but a created being (ex nihilo) who at one time did not exist.’ Incidentally, it may be mentioned that present day’s ‘Unitarians’ and the ‘Jehovah witness’ are offshoots of the Arian heresy (Britannica). The Holy Synod of Nicene under the towering leadership of St. Athanesius repudiated this heresy and adopted the creed. We confess every day, “One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, begotten of the father before all worlds, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of the same substance with the father and who made all things,” etc. The analogy is that if Christ is confessed as God, His earthly mother is undoubtedly mother of God. He rightly called Virgin Mary, “theotokos” which means mother of God. Then came the Nestorian heresy, which said Virgin Mary can be called only, “Christotokos” that means, ‘mother of Christ.’ He denied the deity of Jesus Christ at birth. The Holy Synod of Ephesus (A D 431) under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Dioscoros repudiated this heresy and established that St. Mary was undoubtedly Virgin Mother of God (Basloos Mariam Yeldos’ Aloho). Virginity of St. Mary before and at Birth of Christ is not vigorously pursued thereafter.
Later some new theories surfaced that denied her ‘ever virgin’ status. Based on Mat, 1: 25 that says, Joseph “did not know her till she had brought her first born Son.” Similar citations are quite usual in Bible. “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no Child unto the day of her death,” or (Michal did not bear children until death), II Sam 6: 23. Does it infer that Michal had child after her death? “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he has set judgment in the Earth,” Is 42: 4. Does it infer that He (God) will be discouraged after the judgment? “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” Ps 110: 1. Does it mean that He will not sit at the right hand after? Suffixes, (till, until, unto) do not purport what happened after the said actions. So be it assured that this sentence does not in any way deduce that Joseph knew her after. It is nothing but one of the many linguistic idiosyncrasy. Next conflict is on the word ‘first born.’ Regardless whether a couple has more than one son the first son is always known as the ‘first born.’ Presence of more children does not reduce the firstborn status of the child. It was the usual Jewish custom to call the first child, ‘firstborn.’ The term ‘firstborn’ in New Testament is a dictum to refer to Christ for He is firstling before of all creations. “And again when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says...” Heb 1:6. Jesus Christ is here is the “firstborn of eternal God.” I think no one would conceive, that Eternal God begot another Son the way He begot Jesus Christ. I fail to understand why then a different interpretation in the case of Mary? Israel is firstborn to God, Ex 4:22, Ps 89:27.
Next problem is the statement of ‘brothers.’ This again, if taken in the traditional Jewish custom, there would be no ambiguity whatsoever. Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons in 4 women. They each other called ‘brother’ but they were half-brothers/stepbrothers. Abraham called Lot, his nephew, a brother, Gen 14: 14. Elimelek was only a relative to Boaz but is spoken as brother, Ruth 4:3. Joab called his first cousin as brother, 2 Sam 17: 25 and 20: 9. “Handy Dictionary of the Bible” by Merrill C Tenney, (Protestant presentation, Zondervan book Page 27) states 11 categories of brothers.
(1) “A kinsman Gen 27: 6.
(2) A man of the same country, Ex 2:11, Acts 3:22.
(3) Member of the same tribe, 2 Sam 19: 12.
(4) An ally, Amos 1:9.
(5) One of a kindred people, Num 20:14.
(6) Co-religionist, Act 9: 17.
(7) Fellow office bearer, Ezra 3:2.
(8) Of equal rank, 1 K 9:13.
(9) Any member of human race, Mat 7: 3-5 and Heb 2: 17.
(10) Someone greatly loved, 2 Sam 1: 26.
(11) A relative, Gen. 14: 16 and Mat 12: 46,”
Now therefore it would be ridiculous and sinful to ignore all these facts and presume that “brothers” mentioned in Mat 13: 55-56, John 7:1-10 or elsewhere, namely James, Joses, Simon and Judas were born to St. Mary. Scofield reference Bible, (a Protestant version, series #3, pocket edition, page 999) reads: “A son of Alphaeus (or Cleopas) and of Mary the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus, and Brother Joses (Mk.15: 40.) He was therefore, a cousin of Jesus Christ.” The said bible says brethren, not brothers. Thus evidently, while Jesus had relations, He had no blood brothers. Again Scofield reference bible says, “son’ or ‘brother’ has been variously translated. According to Jewish usage, James the brother of our Lord was cousin,” page 999. Hebrew or Aramaic did not have words equivalent to present ‘brethren’ or ‘cousin’. It was for this reason Jesus Christ committed His mother to the care of Apostle John at the Cross envisaging a new relationship between Mary and John as mother and son. John immediately accomplished the commitment, John 19:25-26. Now imagine because of disbelief of brothers as seen in John 7:5 Jesus as a dutiful son was impelled to make provision for His mother. Do we know any reason why other sons she had, if any, would not take care of her? At least James, the so called brother, believed in Jesus Christ after resurrection, 1 Cor 15: 7, became bishop and head of Church in Jerusalem Acts 12:17 and 21:18, presided over the first ever apostolic Council in Jerusalem Acts 15:13, advised Paul, Acts 21. Yet, Mary was with John.
Had James been the son of Mary he would also have felt responsible to care her. Moreover we have no reason to allude that Mary neglected all her children but Jesus so that they all turned against and deserted her. Even heathens and atheists agree that St. Mary was a model mother par excellent, worthy of emulation. St. Mary is last mentioned in Bible in Acts 1:14 where she, with disciples and “his brethren” is in prayer and supplication waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s wording is especially important, “and with his brethren.” Apparently Jesus’ brethren are not Mary’s sons. Tradition has that she was actively involved in the developments and activities of the infant Church. The disciples paid motherly glory to Mary and dedicated the first ever Church-parish in her honor.
Yet another apple of discord is that Jesus called her, “Woman!” Some people interpret that by calling so Jesus was not giving her any prominence. This is utterly improper predicament. No social custom of any society ever permitted to impolitely address mother. Can we call Jesus as the Son of God and Christ and at the same time think that He mistreated His mother? Commonsense suffices to say that it is highly unbecoming of Jesus to salute her with a dishonorable word. By calling her “woman,” Jesus was identifying Mary as the woman referred to in the Edenic covenant and declaring Himself as the “Seed of the Woman” who shall bruise the head of serpent, Gen 3: 15. He was declaring to the world that He was the one appointed to fulfill the Edenic covenant.
The word equivalent in Greek language, ‘Guine’ imported respect and dignity and not contempt. In English, the words, ‘Lady and woman’ both purport female gender but the meaning is different. Lady means a woman of high social status like Countess, First Lady, etc. ‘Woman’ denotes a female, comparatively low in status. The same parameter applies to the original use of the word in Greek. It would tantamount to deception of His deity? Another issue is that Jesus said to her in John 2:4 “What have I to do with thee?” The following events adduce beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus instead of raising a negative inquisition he was positively responding to her request and one can impartially judge that something in the dialogue is improper. The actual wordings found in original ‘Peseetho Bible’ are, “Athso moli ulek” (Syriac) which means, ‘what for me and you?’ That is to mean, 'Is it a matter of concern for you and me because we are only invitees in the marriage feast!” And that makes sense. I have different versions of Bible like Catholic, Peseetho, King James, Revised standard, Zondarvan, Tract society, etc. They have different words on the subject. This is the best example of how numerous deliberate translation errors crept in the Holy Bible. Old Testament is the shadow of things to come, that is, Christ is the substance, Col 2:17. St. Mary is the substance of the shadows namely, ‘The shut gate’ depicted in Ezek 44: 2, Garden enclosed, ‘spring shut and sealed fountain,’ Song of Songs 4: 12, The burning bush that was not consumed, Ex. 3: 2, etc. Of late in nineteenth century another catastrophe befell the Christendom when Roman Catholics defined and canonized the dogma known as, “Immaculate conception of St. Mary,” (1854 Pius IX). Our Church accepts the fact that St. Mary was sinless throughout life. The Church recognizes that conception caused by human involvement merits bequest of original sin descended from Adam. None but Jesus Christ is exempted from this anomaly. St. James liturgy written in AD 37 reads: “In thy presence there is none sinless except thy only begotten Son.” “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me,” Ps 51: 5. St. Mary’s statement is affirmative “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” Lk 1: 48. She became eligible to such blessedness neither because of noble birth, nor because of her own acquired merits before ‘overshadowing of the Holy Spirit’ but solely because of and from the time of and consequent to the ‘overshadowing of Holy Spirit’ that made the difference. Thomas Aquinas taught that her conception was not immaculate but tarnished as that of any human being, but God ultimately extinguished her original sin before she was born, Suma Theologica III Q 27. St. Augustine did not intent to raise any question on the subject of sin out of respect to our Lord. Neither of them meant she was out of original sin. Excluding her from the original sin goes contrary to scriptures and apostolic teachings. It is said that Moslems do not believe in original sin and so ‘Immaculate Conception theory’ may fit them better but they do not consider the immaculate conception even of Jesus Christ. That means she was not a member of human race in which case she would be exempt from the necessity of deliverance or salvation through the atoning blood of Christ, thus conferring her equal status with God. This would cast serious impediments on the ‘Triune God’ principle. Thus evidently, ‘Immaculate Conception theory’ is a grave heresy and we repudiate it.
The Syrian Orthodox Church is the first Church and hence the mother of all Churches in Christendom. We neither added to nor deleted any thing from the apostolic teachings. We rightly honor her as blessed, glorified and extolled of all generations, holy, exalted, Ever-virgin and blissful mother of God. We believe that she was elevated to Paradise soon after death and are very keen to seek her intercession to appeal on our behalf.
I have briefly dealt with a subject most important to our faith and quite often exposed to unfair criticism from the unbelieving. Surely more remains to be said and so not conclusive.
While assuring you of our prayers, we beseech that you pray for us too.
December 15, 1996