Written by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
How greatly appealing the discourse about the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin
Mary is! Our Holy Church fathers had extensive scrutinizing studies of her
biography; inspired ecclesiastical poets wrote beautiful poems in
glorification of her; celebrated artists sculpted the most beautiful statues
of her and skillful painters filled the world with her splendid portraits.
The Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of the most magnificent Cathedrals the
faithful have erected for her worldwide.
The Virgin Mary¹s Feasts
Ever since its existence our Syrian Orthodox Church has incessantly extolled
the Virgin Mary¹s virtues and canonized her as a patron saint of the church,
repeating her Holy name in church prayers day and night. Our church has set
commemorative days for the Virgin Mary to be celebrated all the year round.
It was a common practice in the church to celebrate commemorations of saints
and martyrs after their departure to heavenly abodes following the
termination of their spiritual struggle on earth. The Holy Virgin Mary and
St. John, however, were excepted.
The Syrian Orthodox Church usually celebrates the nativity of the Virgin
Mary on Sept.8. It used to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin Mary¹s
presentation in the temple, in addition to three others; the Feast of the
Virgin Mary for the blessing of the crops, the Feast of the Virgin Mary of
the sowing and the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing of the vineyards.
Syrian poets called the Potters attribute setting these feasts of the Virgin
Mary to John, the Evangelist. Those poets are quoted saying: ³With dew and
drizzle the land of Ephesus was sprinkled when St. John brought to it the
messages of the Virgin Mary commanding that the blessed Feasts of the Virgin
be celebrated three times a year. The Feast of the Virgin Mary of the sowing
is in January. In May is the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing the crops
and in August is her Feast of the blessing of the vineyards, which are the
symbol of the mystery of life².
These three Feasts are on the fifteenth day of the three aforementioned
months. Assumption of the Virgin Mary replaced the Feast of the Virgin Mary
for blessing the Vineyards, which falls on August 15th. Due to the
sacredness of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the church instituted that
the faithful should go on a fast in preparation for the celebration of this
fast. It is called the Virgin Mary¹s Fast. In the past this fast used to
last for fourteen days starting on August the first, during which the
faithful used to have one Meal a day. This meal was free of meat, eggs or
dairy product. It consisted mainly of vegetables and beans usually taken in
The faithful also refrained from having any drinks. Nowadays the church has
become more tolerant by limiting the fast to five days starting on August
10th and permitting two or three meals a day and having fish and seafood.
The church also celebrates a commemoration day of the Virgin Mary on the
second day of Lord Jesus¹ Nativity, which is called the Feast of the
Glorification of the Virgin Mary at the Lord¹s birth; and one on the day
following the Resurrection of the redeemer and His rising from the dead. On
June 15th the church celebrates also the feast of the first church built
after the Virgin¹s name.
The most celebrated and greatly significant feast in Christendom is the
Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, which falls on March 25th.
At the beginning of the Liturgical year the Syrian Orthodox Church observes
the Sundays, usually known as the Sundays before the Nativity of Christ,
which include Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Sunday of the virgin
Mary¹s visitation to Elizabeth, the Sunday of St. Joseph¹s Revelation, on
which Gabriel affirmed to Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, the Virgin¹s
innocence and revealed the divine Mystery, that the conception was of the
Church fathers praised the Virgin in poetry and prose while celebrating her
feasts and set rites included in huge volumes called (Fanaquith). The book
of daily offices repeated weekly and called (Shehimo) includes hymns in
poetry and prose sung daily in the morning and evening. The themes of these
songs are the declaration of the Orthodox doctrinal concept of the Virgin
Mary and the confession of faith in her. These Hymns are meant to show the
exalted position of the Virgin in the hearts of the faithful and in the
church at large, in addition to manifesting the intercessory and
supplicatory character of prayers addressed to her. Some excerpts are quoted
from the book of daily offices and stated hereinafter: in relation to the
feasts of the Virgin Mary and the aim of celebrating these feasts the prayer
of the first office on Monday night reads: ³Oh, Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
may your name be a source of blessing. May you answer the prayers of those,
close and others far away. May you heal the sick and beseech (your son) to
give courage to the oppressed. May you expel the evil within those
tormented. May the power of your intercessory prayers have mercy on us,
hallelujah, and may your prayer support us².
The prayer said on Monday evening reads:
³May the commemoration of the blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, be eternal,
because in her virginity she gave birth to Jesus, the king, the savior of
the whole universe, hallelujah. May her prayer be with us².
A hymn sung on Thursday evening reads:
³Oh, blessed Virgin, who became the Mother of God in chastity and holiness
and without the seed of a man, may you, on this commemoration day of yours,
have mercy on us so that the dead will have rest and the living may have
hopeŠThough you are so far away from us in the flesh, yet your prayers are
always with us. So may you implore the hidden power (the Son), who descended
from His throne and dwelled in you, to forgive us².
The prayer said on Friday evening includes a Litany by Mar Jacob of Serugh
(+521) that reads:
³How beautiful and pleasant the commemorative day of the Blessed Virgin
Mary, who became the Mother of the Son of God, is! May you, Oh God, through
the intercessory prayer of hers, keep wrath away from all those who, in
faith, seek refuge in her².
In the prayer of the first office, said on Saturday night St. Jacob says:
"Let us venerate the day of the blessed (Mary), glorify it with extreme
love, with faith, ³watchfulness² and long vigil, and by going on giving alms
and praying, for (the virgin) doubles the reward of those who venerate her".
May you, Oh Holy Saint, distribute, on your day, your gifts among our
gathering who are thirsty for your prayers and litanies.
May the Lord be the fence that protects all those who venerate you, and may
the Lord keep all blows and wrath away from themŠ. The power that
strengthens you is that which empowers us so that we become able to praise
you. This power calls on us, through your prayers, to join the abodes of
light May the Lord count all those, dead and alive, who venerate your
commemorative days and seek you as a refuge, among the Choir of Angels. The
congregation raises to you, Oh Lord, on the day of your mother, genuine
praise sung to sweet melodies. May you draw the sign of the Cross on their
highly elevated gates and keep them away from distress. Glory be to you,
your father and to the Holy Spirit.
The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:
"May the commemoration of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Holy in
her virginity, whose virtues found favor with the king of kings that He
descended and dwelled in her womb, be celebrated in churches and
The Virgin Mary in the Prophecies of The Holy Scripture
Throughout our study of the biography of the Holy Virgin Mary and our
elaboration on her Holy life, we have had to depend on the books of divine
inspiration and on the extensive exegesis and hermeneutics of the Holy Book
that our church fathers have left for us. According to the teachings of
these church fathers dozens of prophecies declared by the divine inspiration
and stated in prophetic books in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in
the Virgin Mary. Church fathers saw as well, in some characters of the Holy
Book and in some events in it symbols and signs of the Virgin Mary. She is
the woman referred to in God¹s promise of salvation by saying: " Her seed
shall bruise thy head" (Gen. 3:15). Her seed is Jesus Christ who was
conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of the seed of a man. She is the new
Eve and her son Jesus is the new Adam. In the same way God took a rib from
Adam and created Eve, the first woman, the incarnated God, the second Adam,
was in the renewal of creation, born of the virgin, who is the second Eve.
She is the Virgin, Prophet Isaiah (8th century BC) referred to in his famous
prophecy: " Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call
his name (Immanuel). (Is 7-14), " which being interpreted is, (God with us)
Church fathers tackled these prophecies, symbols and signs in their writings
and some of these symbols and signs were included in prayer books. You find
hereinafter part of what has been put down in the weekly (office) prayer
The prayer of the first office, said on Wednesday night, reads:
³Sadducees of old gave Mary, the daughter of David, the Holy virgin,
beautiful and glorious names. Ezekiel, the son of exile, called her a shut
gate and Solomon called her a locked paradise and a sealed spring. David
called her a city in which Jesus grew to be the grass without sowing and to
be the meat for all the people. On his birthday Jesus freed us from curse².
The prayer said on Tuesday morning reads:
³The bush that Moses beheld on Mount Sinai, symbolizes you, oh, Holy Virgin.
It represents your holy body, its leaves, which did not burn stand for your
virginity Hallelujah, Hallelujah; and the fire in the bush is a symbol of
God who dwelled in you².
The prayer said on Wednesday evening reads:
³The chariot, the chosen Prophet Ezekiel beheld, is way behind your beauty,
for the animals, tied to it, while the cherubs are blessing, and the images
of the four figures, that is the lion, the ox, the eagle and man, are
different from one another. Whereas your knees, oh blessed Mother, have
become a chariot for him, and your arms a wheel and your mouth, in
The prayer said on Saturday evening reads:
³Moses¹ bush, your father David¹s Ark of the Covenant, Gideon¹s fleece, the
ladder of Jacob, the Sadducee, by means of which the human race ascended to
heaven were all symbols of you Mary².
A litany by Mar Jacob in the prayer said on Wednesday morning reads:
³May you be blessed oh, Mary; for the Ark of the Covenant, made by Moses as
a pattern, is an implicit symbol of you, for it included the two tables
written by God and you were the dwelling of the real bread of life².
The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:
³The rock out of which the rivers in the wilderness sprang is a symbol of
you oh, Holy Virgin Mary. From you the Son of God, who is the rock of
righteousness, according to St. Paul, shone forth. It¹s you, Oh Virgin, who
are full of beauty that king David predicted saying: the daughter of the
king stood (to the right of the king) in glory and holiness and the king was
so enchanted by her beauty that he descended and dwelled in her womb².
Some fathers discerned other symbols that stood for the Virgin such as the
thicket found on Mount Moria, under which, there was a ram which delivered
Isaac from being slain and Aaron¹s rod that bloomed and yielded almonds.
The Genealogy of The Virgin Mary
The Holy Virgin Mary descended from the tribe of Judah. She is of the house
of David and a relative of Elizabeth, the mother of John, the Baptist. In
the Holy Gospel Elizabeth is called "the virgin¹s cousin (L.1: 36). It is
reported that Elizabeth is her aunt. Salome, the wife of Zebedee and the
mother of James and John is a relative of the Virgin Mary as well (Mathew
27:56, 19:25). It is in the Holy Gospel that we read about the genealogy of
Jesus Christ on the side of Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary (Mat. 1:16,
Luke 3:23, Act 2:20, Rom 1:3). The Virgin and Joseph belong to one tribe.
The Virgin Mary is the descendant of priests, kings and prophets. She is the
daughter of David. For this reason the angel said unto her upon Annunciation
of the divine conception: ³Thou shalt conceive in your womb, and bring forth
a sonŠ. He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Highest Šand
the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And He
shall reign over the house of Jacob forever². (Luke 1-31-32).
Joachim and Hanna, The Virgin Mary¹s Barren Parents
Ecclesiastic tradition, based on the teachings of the Apostles reports that
the parents of the Virgin Mary are Joachim and Hanna, and that the father of
Hanna is priest Mattan of the house of Levi and of the house of Aaron and
the mother of Hanna is Mary of the house of Judah. Joachim and Hanna used to
live in a village near Nazareth in Galilee and they were well to do. They
used to donate their profits to the temple and to the poor and use the rest
for their livelihood. They were barren and righteous before God, abiding by
God¹s laws. The Jews, however, considered bareness, as a curse inflicted by
God and a reproach before people. Each Jewish girl, therefore, was so eager
to give birth to Jesus, the Messiah, and kept praying for achieving that.
Accordingly Joachim and Hanna kept praying and beseeching God to remove this
reproach from their house. They became so old without having their request
answered. It is reported that Joachim once came to the Lord¹s temple to
present an offering but the priest refused the offering because it came from
a barren person.
So Joachim returned home grieved, disheartened and humiliated. He sobbed so
bitterly with his wife Hanna before God that God answered their request and
a daughter was born to them, they called her Mary.
Mary is a Syriac compound name consisting of two syllables (More) and (Yam)
which means the sea of bitterness. Some say the meaning of ³Mary² is the
star of the sea and it also denotes light.
Conception and Birth of Mary
It is noteworthy to mention that the conception of Mary took place according
to the natural law for she was of a man (Joachim) and a woman (Hanna).
Mary is the daughter of two barren persons just like Isaac, Samuel and John,
the Baptist. She inherited, just like them, and like other people, the
original sin of Adam and Eve, which is the sin of all humanity starting with
Adam who represented his race when he committed sin so his descendents were
charged with sin, which could not be obliterated from falling humanity
except by the incarnation of the second hypothesis of the Holy Trinity.
That¹s why the Apostle Paul says:
³Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and
so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned² (Rom.5: 12), and David
³Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me²
(Ps. 51:5.). Of all those who put on flesh, it was only Jesus Christ who was
excepted from the legacy of this sin. ³Who took everything we have except
sin² and who became the propitiator for the sins of the whole world.
³Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in
his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are
past, through the forbearance of God². (R.3: 23,24). ³Wherefore, as by one
man sin entered into the world², so by one man it was obliterated (Rom.5:
12:15). Just like all other people, the Virgin Mary, who was, most probably,
born in Nazareth, was not without sin.
The Virgin in the Temple
When the Virgin Mary was three years old her parents fulfilled their vows
and presented her to the temple. During her stay in the temple her parents
died knowing nothing of the future of their daughter. Church fathers have a
different version stated in church liturgy. The payer read from the book of
daily offices (Shehimo) on Friday morning reads:
" Mary became an orphan, for her parents passed away. She was left for the
priests to take care of her. They took her to Jerusalem according to the
command of Moses to be brought up there. The Lord of Prophets descended from
high. He blessed and sanctified her. Hallelujah. May the prayer to her be a
fence and protection to us".
According to both versions we notice that the Virgin Mary was brought up in
the temple from childhood and was consecrated to God. She worshiped God,
Almighty serving in His temple with other elderly women worshipers such as
Hanna the prophetess, daughter of Phenol, who served GodŠnight and day (L.
2:37). The Virgin Mary studied the books of Divine inspiration and kept the
It has to be understood that the Virgin Mary did not take a vow of lifetime
virginity because it was not the custom of the Jews to take such vows and
because every Jewish girl was eager that she might give birth to Messiah.
Every Jewish girl looked forward to her wedding day. This is manifested when
the daughter of Jephtah knew about the vow taken by her father that ³Whoever
comes forth of the door of his house to meet him when he returns in victory
he will offer it up for a burnt offering². She was the first to come forth
and receive him, and her father had to keep his vow in her. Although taking
vows was considered against the law (Deut.12: 31), ³she said unto her
father, let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may
go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my
fellows² (Judg. 11:37).
Monasticism was known among pagans. It was introduced to Judaism as well,
and was practiced by the Essens. This was, however, a violation of Jewish
religious traditions and of the teachings of the Pentateuch which considers
marriage a necessity in fulfillment of the Command of God, Almighty.
³Be fruitful and multiply² (Gen. 1:28). Some prophets kept celibacy such as
Elijah, John, the Baptist and others. This was, however, in fulfillment of a
divine end. These celibates were considered as weird and never can weirdness
be the norm.
The Virgin Mary¹s Betrothal to Joseph, the Righteous
Being an orphan, who lost both parents, Mary was taken care of, at the age
of fourteen, by the priests who acted as her parents. According to customs
prevailing at the time, her closest kinsmen were summoned and the decision
was taken by lot that Joseph, the Righteous, was to be considered the Virgin
Mary¹s spouse. Some suggest that Joseph was a widower and had children of
his dead wife who were later called the Lord¹s brethren. Some others suggest
that he was a celibate. Joseph was no doubt a simple carpenter in Nazareth,
stricken by abject poverty.
The custom of the day usually required an interval of one year of betrothal
before consummating marriage union. It was during this interval that the
angel of the lord, Gabriel was sent unto a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
to Mary who was espoused to Joseph. The angel saluted her and annunciated
the divine conception saying:
³Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou
among women Šthou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and
shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of
the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father
David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his
kingdom there shall be no end.² then said Mary unto the angel, ³How shall
this be, seeing I know not a man?² And the angel answered and said unto her:
³The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall
overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee
shall be called the Son of God². And Mary said in humility: ³behold the
handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word². (Luke 1: 26-38).
The moment Mary yielded to God¹s Command, the Holy Ghost came upon her
absolving her of sin and sanctifying her (Luke 1:35). Divinity dwelt in her
womb and of her blood a full man was created initiating, thus the mystery of
Divine Incarnation without the seed of a man ³before they came
The Lord had the complete human nature of his mother, that is a real body
with articulate human soul (Luke 23:46 Matt 26:38), resembling us, yet
without sin (Heb. 4:15).
So the holy thing which shall be born of the virgin shall be called Holy and
the Son of God. (Luke 1:35).
The event of Annunciation of Divine Conception marks the beginning of the
two mysteries of Incarnation and Redemption. In honor of the Holy Virgin
Mary Syrian Church Fathers instituted that the faithful read the angel¹s
salutation at the end of daily offices morning and evening, and even at the
end of individual prayers at their will.
The Magnificent reads:
³Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou
among women. Blessed is he, who is conceived in your womb, Holy Mary, the
Mother of God. May you pray for us, we the sinners, now and at the hour of
our death, Amen².
In reference to Annunciation, the prayer said on Tuesday reads:
³Gabriel flew with spiritual wings. He hailed Mary and conveyed the
salutation forwarded to her saying, hail be to you, the Lord is with you,
The savior of the universe shall shine forth from youŠyour virginity
astounded Gabriel, oh Mother of God. He folded his hands and prostrated in
adoration before you and hailed you because he beheld His Lord dwelling in
your womb. You were equal to the chariot carrying the bearer of mankind.²
The prayer of the third hour said on Wednesday includes the following lines
of poetry by Jacob of Serugh:
³With amazement and wonder I speak of the great status the daughter of
mankind has attained. Was it the grace that made the son of the highest
descend onto her, or was it she who desired to be the mother of her only
son? It is clear that God descended to earth by Grace. Mary, who was so
godly, yielded and he beheld her humbleness and innocence and dwelled in
her, for it pleases the Holy to dwell in those who are humbleŠ ³Only in the
humble and innocent I dwell². He saw that she was the humblest of mankind,
those who are born to women. None has ever been more humble than Mary.
Neither has anyone ever been more exalted than her. Glory be to the Father,
who chose her for her humility and adoration be to the son who descended in
humility (from high) and dwelled in her. Thanks are due to the (Holy) Spirit
who is pleased to dwell in humble ones. Glory be to the one nature of the
TrinityŠMay you, oh, Son of God, through the prayer of Mary, who bore you
nine months, keep wrath away from us".
The Virgin Mary Visits her Cousin Elizabeth
The Virgin Mary heard the angel saying to her: ³Behold thy cousin Elizabeth,
she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month
with her, who was called barren.²(Luke 1:36), and Mary is filled with joy
for the Great News and feels so happy for her cousin- a sentiment which
reveals great love. Mary leaves Nazareth and heads towards the hill country
of Judah to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zecharia. Elizabeth saluted her by
a prophetic hymn in which she said:
³Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For,
lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe
leaped in my womb for joyŠblessed is she that believed: For there shall be a
performance of those things which were told her from the Lord², to which
Mary replied by a more magnificent hymn with eternal prophetic words the
church repeats every morning in her prayers in which she says:
³My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my
Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold,
from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty
hath done to me great things; and Holy is his name. And his mercy is on them
that fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1: 42-50).
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, and some say she stayed
until Elizabeth gave birth to John. Some others argue that Mary left the
house of Zecharia before Elizabeth¹s birth of her son, John, lest the Virgin
Mary, the mother of God, might be thought to have served her cousin, the
mother of John, who later said that he was not worthy to bear Lord Jesus
How beautiful the terms used by the fathers in description of the meeting of
the Virgin Mary with Elizabeth are!
The prayer said on Wednesday morning reads:
"Elizabeth, the mother of John, the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus
are two bastions that stand for barrenness and virginity, chosen by the
king. The babe leaped in Elizabeth¹s womb. The new encountered the old who
saluted his master saying, come in peace, for your peace shall prevail in
The prayer said on Friday evening reads:
³Mary and Elizabeth are two miraculous vessels heading towards the harbor.
Elizabeth gave birth to the preacher and Mary gave birth to the savior of
the world HallelujahŠtheir prayer invigorates us².
The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:
³Who has beheld two vines planted in the vineyard of the Lord and the whole
universe enjoys the wine squeezed of their clusters? The two vines are
symbols of Mary and Elizabeth and the two clusters are Jesus, the
bridegroom, betrothed to the holy church and John is the best man Šat the
Joseph¹s Suspicions and Reassurance
When the Virgin Mary returned to Nazareth, her pregnancy was apparent, It
was only Joseph, who was betrothed to her, who suspected her. Their
betrothal was performed according to Jewish customs, which entitled the man,
within the interval of one year of betrothal to a girl to be actually
married even though she might still be living with her family, and before
wedding festivities after which she takes residence in her husband¹s house.
Accordingly, no one was suspicious of Mary except Joseph who wished to
divorce her privily. Others, however, thought that Mary and Joseph
consummated their union and Joseph was the father. So Mary was considered as
betrothed to Joseph because marriage vows were taken but without marriage
festivities; and she was also his wife having been espoused to him by a
marriage contract. When the angel appeared to him confirming Mary¹s
Chastity, the angel called her his wife saying: ³Joseph, thou son of David,
fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her
is of the Holy Ghost. (Matt. 1:20).
The Virgin Gives Birth to the Incarnated God
The Virgin was espoused to Joseph, took residence in his house in Nazareth.
They went together to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-20) to be taxed according to the
decree from Ceasar Augustus.
In Bethlehem Mary gave birth to her first born son in a stable annexed to
the inn. She remained virgin during conception and until after birth. Due to
the greatness of the Incarnation of God, the word, Mary remained a virgin
before birth, at birth and until after the birth of Jesus. The miraculous
virgin birth of the Lord was similar to the penetration of sun¹s rays
through glass without fracturing or breaking it. Just as the Lord entered
the upper room and appeared to his disciples while the doors were shut; and
as he rose from the grave while still sealed, He was born and the seal was
intact. No wonder, therefore, that the virgin kept her virginity after the
birth of her first son, Lord Jesus. It was she who said of herself: ³For he
that is mighty hath done to me great things². She was to behold these
miracles that almighty God made in her and for her. For this reason she was
called the ever virgin and the mother of God because she gave birth to the
incarnated God (Luke 1:49, Gal. 4: 4 Is 7:14).
The prayer of the first office said on Monday night reads:
³I know not what attribute to give you, oh, daughter of David. I know not
what name to give you, oh, Mary. Shall I call you the virgin? And behold a
son is suckling from you! Shall I call you a mother! And your virginity is
confirmed! I shall call you the Mother of God and let contenders, who dare
argue and investigate about the mystery of your son, hallelujah, be ashamed
and let the one who attempts to fathom this mystery be Anathema².
The prayer of the first office said on Wednesday night reads:
³The virgin gave birth to a miraculous child. Let¹s go and behold the
swaddled baby, who is older than ages. Behold the man of old being born of a
virgin. The mighty, the great and steady as mountains held in (Mary¹s arm).
Behold the suckling infant giving bread to the poor. The eternal son with no
beginning, willed that he, the eternal, have a beginning. A beginning he had
and was born. He, the eternal, who is infinite².
The prayer said on Wednesday evening reads:
³Confiding to her son Mary said: you strengthened me to bear you, and when I
gave birth to you in a manger in the stable you revealed your glory to me.
Behold the fire embracing the little manger and the Seraphim with their six
wings fluttering over it. May you command them to stop fluttering so that I
may be able to enter, kneel in adoration before you and suckle you, giving
you the pure milk you favorŠ Mary said, I am poor; I own no house on earth,
no resting place and no bed. I wrapped him, He, the oldest of all, and in a
manger I placed the Lord of creation, the son whose father in heaven is one,
and his mother is peerless on earth. He is the Lord betrothed to church and
I am his maidservant².
The prayer of the first office said on Thursday night reads:
³When the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, she addressed him saying: I know
not, son, what to call you! Shall I call you a child and you are older than
ages? Or shall I call you an old man and you are a child? I shall call you a
ray, shining forth from the Father, illuminating all creations, Hallelujah.
Blessed be your light, blessed be your brightness, and adoration be to your
Father, who sent you for our salvation.
Mary said to her virgin friends:
I am rejoiced and joyful because I bear the bearer of mankind, who is served
by the angels. I coo to Him, who taught melodies to mankind. Ranks of
illuminators surround His glory, Hallelujah, and hail Him saying, Holy, Holy
is the Lord and blessed is His Sanctity".
The prayer said on Monday morning reads:
"The Lord shone forth from the Father and the daughter of David (gave birth)
to the Savior and Bethlehem (granted) the bread of life to the peoples who
had faith in Him. Adoration be to the Father, who sent His son, and Blessed
be Mary, who gave birth to Him, Blessed be the church that embraced him,
singing (hymns) of glorification to HimŠ
I was going through Bethlehem when I heard the voice of Mary in the stable
cooing to her son and saying:
Blessed me, oh, son, because I became your mother and suckled youŠ Never
shall I approach you unless you permit me"._
Behold the virgin, the Mother of God, with everlasting virginity. The first
born of first borns and the virgin of virgins, who gave birth to the
Incarnated Lord. She remained virgin until after the birth of Jesus as
stated before. When Mathew, the Evangelist, referred to the Virgin saying "
And knew her not till she had brought forth her first born son (Matt. 1:25),
he meant to confirm to us that she was a virgin before the birth of Jesus,
remained a virgin during childbirth and until after the birth of Lord Jesus
and that she conceived her son of the Holy Spirit without the seed of a man.
Mathew did not refer to Mary¹s virginity after Jesus¹ birth and the
affirmation that Joseph did not know Mary physically and that they did not
consummate their union before the birth of Jesus, does not imply the
confirmation that he knew her after Jesus¹ birth. The term (unto) is not
always used to denote inapplicability to what follows afterwards. This can
be clearly understood, based on the use of the term in other contexts in the
Holy Book such as: ³Therefore Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child unto
the day of her death² (2 Sam (6:23). Who would ever infer that she gave
birth to children after her death?
The phrase "did not know her" might have meant Joseph did not know how
venerable she was and how great her spiritual status in the eyes of God was
until she gave birth to her first born son, and he beheld the miraculous
virgin birth and the angels surrounding the manger. To sum up, Joseph did
not consummate their union and Mary is ever virgin.
The First Born Son
³Her first born², the phrase stated also in the Gospel of (Luke 2: 6-7) does
not mean that the virgin gave birth to other children after Jesus, and
consequently, she was not ever virgin. This expression ³the first born² is,
however, an appellation usually given to the first child whether he had
brothers after him or not. This is the concept conveyed in the Holy Book
where the commandment instituted that the first born be the redeemer, and he
was not expected to have had other brothers to be confirmed as the first
born. It goes without saying that had Jesus had brethren he would have
handed his mother over to them and would not have entrusted her to John, the
disciple he loved.
Many are the connotations of the phrase ³the first born² used as a
descriptive term of Jesus. He is the first born of the heavenly Father, the
first born of Mary, and the first born of the departedŠ. EtcŠ
The Lord¹s Brethren
Those, Who were called the Lord¹s brethren in the Holy Gospel (Matt 13:55)
were his relatives, that is his cousins on both mother¹s and father¹s side,
because this term ³brethren² is used in the divine inspiration to denote
relatives and members of one tribe (Gen. 31:37, Ex. 2:11). For that reason,
Abraham called Lot, who was his nephew, his brother.
The Mother of God (Theotokos)
The Holy Church called the Holy Virgin Mary ³The Mother of God² as stated
before, because she gave birth to the Lord in the flesh. However, in the
fifth century, Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, denounced this
appellation given to the Virgin. He was declared anathema in the third
ecumenical council convened in Ephesus 431 in the presence of 200 bishops,
who declared that Jesus had one hypostasis, one nature after the union
without confusion, without commixtion, without division. They also put down
the introduction to the creed, which confirmed that the Holy Virgin Mary was
the Mother of God stating:
³We venerate you, oh, Mother of true light and glorify you, oh, Holy Virgin,
Mother of God, because you gave birth to the Savior of the whole universe².
No wonder that the title " The Mother of God" summarizes the magnanimous
doctrine of Incarnation. This title has been used by the Holy Church ever
since the early ages of Christianity and was mentioned in the writings of
early fathers. It was approved and confirmed by the council of Ephesus in
431. St. Cyril the Great said:
³This is the teaching carefully instituted by Orthodoxy everywhere. Our holy
fathers adhered to it. They were so confident about giving this title, (the
Mother of God) (Theotokos) to the Holy Virgin Mary not because the nature of
the word (the physis), or divinity, was first derived from the Holy Virgin,
but because His Holy body with rational soul was born of her and His flesh
was united with the prosopon of God, the Word, and for this reason it was
said that he was born of her in the flesh².
The title (Theotokos), the Mother of God, given to the virgin is not meant
for honoring the virgin, but for instituting a theological doctrine
confirming that Jesus, who was born of the Virgin, made His Humanity one
with His divinity- one physis, one hypostasis, one prosopon. We are
entitled, therefore, to call the Virgin, (the Mother of God), because she
gave birth to the flesh and because this flesh has a rational soul and is
united in His Divinity by one Nature, one Hypostasis and one Prosopon. Mary
is called the Mother of God in the same way any woman is called the mother
of someone composed of body and soul- which are created by God and not
given birth by that woman. We call her, however, the mother of this person
because his soul and body are united in one nature and one person, hence she
is called his mother. The Virgin Mary is, likewise, called.
The prayer said on Wednesday morning reads:
"Let everyone, who does not believe that Mary gave birth to God, be
anathema. And everyone who does not confess that the one born is God and the
Son of God shall be deemed as Godless and a blasphemer.
He was eternally born of the Father and shone forth of Mary at the end of
ages. He, who was born of the Father and of Mary, is one and the same, to
whom glorification and adoration be due. Let whoever contends otherwise, and
tries to fathom his mystery be anathema"._
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389+) said:
³Whoever does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos)
shall be a stranger in God¹s eyes².
Mary Raises her Son Jesus
So many events took place after Jesus¹ birth during which we beheld the
Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, bringing up her son according to God¹s law,
in fulfillment of the Lord¹s will. Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and
in favor with God, and man.
He was circumcised on the eighth day of his birth. And forty days after his
birth He was presented in the temple and Mary accomplished her days of
purification according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2-22:39). Simon took him up
in his arms saying to Mary, his mother " yea, a sword shall pierce through
thy own soul". This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter during the life of
Mary, the grieved mother.
The Magi came and visited the newly born child, they fell down, worshiped
him and they presented unto him gold, and frankincense and myrrh. The
vicious intentions of Herod, who wanted to kill the child, were unveiled.
The Flight into Egypt
The angel of the Lord ordered Joseph to take the young child and his mother
and flee into Egypt.
One of the interesting narratives related about the Virgin while fleeing
with her child into Egypt with Joseph the righteous, was that they went past
a peasant who was sowing, and the virgin blessed the land, and the plants
grew taller. After their departure a squad of Herod¹s soldiers arrived
aiming at arresting them, but they could not find them and when the soldiers
inquired of the peasant whether a man and a woman with a child, had passed
by, the peasant answered yes, they did. When the soldiers asked him when was
that? The peasant answered: that was on the day I was sowing seeds. When the
soldiers saw the crops had grown to a full height they thought the family
had gone past the place a few months earlier so they were disappointed and
relinquished their pursuit.
It is also reported that before entering into Egypt the Holy family was
attacked by thieves who tried to assault the Virgin, her son and Joseph and
rob them. The chief of the gang prevented them; God, therefore, rewarded him
by allowing him to be crucified to the right of the redeemer and in
repentance have faith in him. He became worthy of hearing the Lord¹s promise
to him ³verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise².
Some fathers report that Egyptian idols fell whenever child Jesus¹
procession went by their temples. The Lord entered into Egypt, lifted the
curse under which Egypt was; and thus the Lord¹s words " blessed be my
people in Egypt" were fulfilled.
Residence in Nazereth
When Herod was dead one year after the Virgin Mary¹s flight with her son to
Egypt, the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and ordered him to go back
to Palestine. Joseph returned to Nazareth so that the prophecy " I called my
son out of Egypt" (Hos. 11:1) be fulfilled and the Holy family took
residence in Nazareth.
The Virgin, The Virtuous Woman and Loving Mother
In her daily life, the Virgin Mary lived the life that good, virtuous women
usually led. In her life Solomon¹s verse was fulfilled ³who can find a
virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies² (Prov. 31:10).
Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary was a carpenter for his livelihood ³and
Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.²
Jesus might have studied the law and the prophecies with the children of his
hometown and practiced carpentry in the workshop of Joseph, who was legally
but not physically his father.
We have known that the Virgin Mary kept religious offices according to the
Law of Moses. She went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover
(Luke 2:41). When child Jesus was twelve years old they took him to the
temple where all males were to appear before the Lord God. According to
Jewish customs, he was considered at this age, " The son of the Pentateuch",
which means being committed to all commandments of the Law which include
prayers, fasting and appearance before the Lord (Deut. 16:16). When the
eight days of festivities were over they returned to Nazareth with their
friends who accompanied them to Jerusalem and the two male and female groups
walked separately. At sunset they used to meet at a site agreed upon for
staying the night. In the evening, the caravan arrived in a town called
³Al-beereh² to stay the night there. Joseph and Mary, supposing Jesus to
have been in the company, sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance
but they did not find him. So they turned back again to Jerusalem seeking
him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of
the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. His mother said
unto him, ³Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I
have sought thee sorrowing² (Luke 2:48) and he said unto them: ³Wist ye not
that I must be about my father¹s business?² (Luke 2:49)
The Virgin Mary, The Patron Saint in Cana of Galilee
When Jesus was thirty and he started His divine ministry in public, the
Virgin Mary¹s responsibilities became greater, We heard her saying to him at
the marriage ceremony in Cana of Galilee:³they have no wine². Jesus said
unto her ³woman what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come².
Mary saith unto the servants " whatsoever he saith unto you, do it", knowing
that he never refuses a request of hers. So at Cana Jesus performed his
first miracle changing water into wine before his disciples at the request
of His mother.
So clear was Mary¹s attitude towards Lord Jesus¹ message. She had faith in
her son. Could she ever be doubtful or skeptic, having had the angel
annunciating His divine status? " He shall be great and shall be called the
son of the highest and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his
father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever". When we
read in the Holy Gospel that ³His friends went out to lay hold on him, for
they said He is beside himself² (Mark 3:21) we should not be misled into
thinking that His mother agreed with them and disavowed her son. We also
read what Mark put down: ³There came then his brethren and his mother, and
standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about
him, and they said unto him, Behold thy mother and thy brethren without seek
for thee. And he answered them, saying, who is my mother or my brethren? And
he looked round about on them, which sat about him, and said, behold my
mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is
my brother, and my sister, and mother² (Mark 3: 31-35).
With such a statement Lord Jesus does not mean to undervalue his mother¹s
dignity; on the contrary he aims at elevating the believers in him, his
disciples in particular, whom he had just chosen, to her most sublime
spiritual rank. What the Holy Gospel said about his mother asserts this.
³Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart². Every disciple
therefore, and every faithful of both sexes who keeps God¹s word and acts
according to His will as Mary did shall have the same grace bestowed on
In the Holy Gospel we also read in (Luke 11:27-28) that a certain woman of
the company lifted up her voice and said unto him ³Blessed is the womb that
bare thee.and the paps which thou hast sucked². But he said, " yea, rather
blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it". This verse
includes a praise of the virgin as well.
The Virgin Entrusted to John, The Beloved Disciple at The Cross
The Virgin Mary followed her son Jesus to the Golgotha and it was at the
cross that the prophecy of Simeon was fulfilled " a sword shall pierce
through thy own soul"; for she saw her Holy son crucified on the Cross. She
beheld him dead, and participated in burying him. She beheld him afterwards
rising from the dead. She must have been with the disciples on the Mount of
Olives and must have seen him ascending to heaven.
In the Acts of the Apostles (1:14), it is reported that the Virgin Mary with
the disciples and the brethren of the Lord continued with one accord in
prayer and supplication. She was with them at Pentecost in the upper room
where they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.The day of Pentecost marks
the birthday of the church, when three thousand persons believed following
the address of Peter, the chief of the Apostles. They were also baptized due
to the importance of baptism for salvation according to God¹s words.
³He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not
shall be damned² (Mark 16:16). Some might ask whether the virgin did receive
the sacrament of baptism. The Holy Book is silent in relevance to this and
there is no mention, whatsoever, of having the Apostles baptized or not. In
the Syrian Church, in his treaties on the Apostles¹ sanctification of
chrism, Mar Iwannis of Dara (860+) mentions, in passing that the Virgin was
baptized with the aim of giving the issue of baptism and Chrism great
significance. No where else in our tradition have we ever come across a text
that supports Iwannis of Dara¹s view. This is not, however, a doctrine of
the church, but just a view of one of the church fathers. We have no idea
where the virgin dwelled after being accompanied by John, the beloved
disciple. Most probably she stayed in Jerusalem.
Some historians suggested that she visited Ephesus with John and stayed
there for a while and returned to Jerusalem afterwards.
The Virgin¹s Assumption
The virgin longed to ascend to heaven to join her son Jesus. Her dormition
was in peace. The date of her death and how old she was have always been a
controversial issue among historians. Most probably that was in AD 56 when
she was seventy. Her Assumption in the flesh and soul was not instituted by
the Syrian Church as a doctrine. The Virgin¹s Assumption is a confessional
patristic tradition based on the Syriac narrative of Apostle Thomas. In this
narrative we read about the gathering of the Apostles in spirit in Jerusalem
for the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and about the late arrival of Tom, his
encounter with the Virgin up in the sky on the way up to heaven, and his
acquisition of her girdle, which he brought to the Apostles and his request
to them to reopen her grave. When the Apostles did that they did not find
her holy body. Thomas declared to them the truth of her ascension to heaven
in her glorified flesh and that he witnessed her procession and received the
girdle from her in testimony whereof. The Apostles believed him. Syriac
tradition reports that Thomas took the girdle with him to India where he was
martyred at the hands of pagan priests. When Thomas¹ relics were taken to
Edessa in the fourth century the girdle was brought with them. Finally the
girdle reached the Church of the Virgin in Homs, which has been called the
Church of the Virgin¹s Girdle ever since. The girdle was discovered in 1852
during the time of Archbishop Mar Julius Peter (Later Patriarch Mar Ignatius
Peter 4th.). The girdle was placed in the altar. Late Patriarch Ephrem I
Barsoum, of blessed memory, rediscovered the girdle in 1953. The shrine of
the girdle in the church in Homs has become a source of blessing for the
The Possibility of the Virgin¹s Ascension to Heaven
According to tradition, the virgin ascended to heaven. The question posed
is: was paradise the abode of her soul just like all the righteous and
pious? Or did she ascend to heaven soul and body? Her ascension to heaven in
her glorified flesh is not something irrelevant to the Spirit of the Holy
Book nor to the tolerant Christian confessional truths. If ³Enoch walked
with God and he was not, for God took him² (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah, the
prophet ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11) wouldn¹t the
Virgin Mary, who bore the Lord nine months in her womb, gave birth to him
and suckled him, rather be considered as worthy to have her body kept
without corruption and to have it transformed into a spiritual one; and to
ascend to heaven in soul and flesh to enjoy being with her beloved son Lord
Jesus Christ? St. Jacob of Serugh, the doctor (521+) said in his Memre in
Syriac on the death of the Virgin Mary,³When the virgin was on her death
bed, Angels, the righteous, prophets and fathers descended on her from high
upon the order of God. The twelve Apostles and Evangelists cameŠthey buried
her in a rocky cave. Glory prevailed in heaven and on earth when the angels
beheld her soul ascending and flying towards abodes of lights². The book
ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagyte, the bishop of Athens (+95) relates
that " upon the dormition of Mary, all the Apostles gathered together so
quickly coming from the Four Corners of Earth, where they were preaching the
word. They arrived in Jerusalem, the Residence City of blessed Mary, and
then Jesus came with His angels. Jesus received her soul and handed it to
Michael, the Archangel.
On the next day the Apostles laid the body in a grave and guarded the grave
waiting for the appearance of the Lord. Jesus appeared once more and
transferred her holy body to heaven on a cloud. Up there, her body was
united to her soul to enjoy her everlasting joy."
The Virgin¹s Intercession
The Virgin Mary is a patron saint in the Syrian Orthodox Church. Uncountable
are the miracles made by the Virgin Mary in the church and for the faithful.
Her girdle is the focus of honor and a source of blessing. No wonder about
that, when one bears in mind that raiment used to be put on the body of the
Apostle Paul and then put on the bodies of sick people in quest of healing
.One may justly pose the question: wouldn¹t the girdle of the Virgin Mary,
which she had woven with her own holy hands, put around her waist, and most
probably had had contact with the body of the redeemer himself, rather be
deemed as a source of blessing?
Worship Due Only to God
It¹s already been mentioned that the Syrian Church venerates the Virgin Mary
and that prayers to God include interceding with the Virgin Mary, but the
faithful in the Syrian Church do not worship her. Only God is worshiped. We
do denounce the legend of worshiping Mary. No name but that of Jesus is in
heaven, on earth, or in the underworld. To him the faithful prostrate
because He is the savior of the world. The virgin is human and whoever
worships her shall be a blasphemer (Acts 14:11-16). The Virgin Mary says of
herself ³And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior. For he has regarded
the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all
generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me
great things² (Luke 1:47-49).
We shall have to canonize her by following in her footsteps in virtue and in
keeping God¹s words and pondering on them in her heart by means of true
prayers. She is a good example for the Celibates and virgins, for the
married of both sexes, for fathers and mothers in bringing their children up
in a good way, by making them keep the law of the Lord and observe offices.
May God bless whoever intercedes with the Virgin Mary and whoever sets her
holy life, as a good example.
A Litany written by Jacob of Serugh would be the best statement with which
to conclude our discourse about the Virgin Mary.
³Your prayer accompanies us, oh blessed. Your prayer accompanies us. The
Lord answers your prayers and forgives us. May you, who is full of grace
offer up supplications to the merciful and beseech Him to have mercy on
those souls seeking it, Amen".