Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Virgin Mary - Part I

The Virgin Mary (Part  1)

From Saint Mark's Convent, Jerusalem by Johan Andersson, Student at the
Syrian-Orthodox Patriarchate

The Holy Virgin Mary has a big place in the Syriac Orthodox Church and that
can create confusion within other Christians who do not understand or have
not yet discovered who she is or why she is so important.
In the New Testament, Luke 1:26, we read: ³In the sixth month the angel
Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named NazarethŠ The angel
came in unto her and said: ³Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is
with thee: Blessed art thou among women² (Luke 1:26-28).
The Virgin Mary is full of grace. In Syriac we say: ³malyath taybotho² and
in the Greek original text: ³Chairotomene². The one who comes with this
greeting is not just anybody, but the Archangel Gabriel ³who stands in front
of Gods throne² (Luke 1:19). It is very obvious here that the Virgin Mary
has been given a special task and is chosen for this. Just like God says to
the Prophet Jeremiah: ³Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and
before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee²(Jer. 1:5).

The Holy Bible also says that ³every generation shall praise² (Luk. 1:48)
the Virgin Mary blessed. Let us therefore look a bit closer as to why.
The Virgin Mary as the new Eve
Very early in the Church came the comparison between the Virgin Mary and
Eve. The Apostle Paul speaks about Christ as the second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21;
1 Cor. 15:45 etc.) and early in the Church they saw the second Eve in Mary.
First we find this in the writings of Justin the Martyr (100-165) and later
on the Church father Ireneaus of Lyon (120-200) developed a deeper theology
about it. It is easy to see the opposite of Eve in the Virgin Mary,
especially if we think of Christ as the second Adam. The fallen Angel,
Satan, who is described as the snake in the first Book of Moses, Gen 3:1-7,
tempts Eve to the fall of man, but the Archangel, in Luke 1:26-38, leads the
Virgin Mary to say yes (1:38) to the restoration of mankind.

Justin the Martyr (100-165): ³And He (Christ) became man of the Virgin, so
that the disobedience that came from the snake could meet its destruction in
the same way that it first came to be. Because Eve, who was a Virgin and
untouched, brought forth ­ after hearing the word of the snake ­ death and
disobedience, but the Virgin Mary receives faith and joy when the angel
Gabriel explains to her the good news that the Spirit of the Lord will come
over her and that the power of the most high will overshadow her; because of
this the Holy One is brought forth by her, the Son of God²[1]

Ireneaus of Lyon (120-200): ³Just like Eve, the wife of Adam, although still
a Virgin became the reason for the fall of man through her disobedience, so
the Virgin Mary, also betrothed but still a Virgin, by her obedience became
the reason for the salvation of her self and the whole human raceŠ And so it
was that the knot tied by the disobedience of Eve was untied by the
obedience of Mary. Because what Eve had tied in disbelief the Virgin untied
by faith²[2]

The Virgin Mary as the second heaven

A term that is very dear to our Syriac Orthodox Church is that the Virgin
Mary is the ³second heaven² (in Syriac smayo tarten). This term is simply
explained by the fact that God lives in the heaven. And the second place
that God literary has ³lived² in is the womb of the Virgin Mary. Therefore
the glory of heaven came with Jesus to the womb of Mary. Therefore we call
and venerate the Virgin Mary as ³the second heaven². Because of this you see
the blue color on our icons and images of the Virgin. Blue is the symbol of

The Virgin Mary ­ the Mother of God

One of the names that you hear the most in our Churches is ³Yoldath Aloho²,
literary ³she who gave birth to God² or the ³Mother of God². This title was
confirmed and proclaimed at the third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus 431.
This title is a dogma in both the Orthodox and Catholic Church. A dogma
means that it is something that must be believed and accepted by the
faithful as something divinely revealed by the Holy Spirit.

What does the name mean?

It means first and foremost an emphasis of the faith that Jesus Christ is
³true God of true God². Jesus is the second person in the Holy Trinity and
Himself ³of the same essence as the Father², that is to say God. That the
mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, received the title ³mother of God² is a
consequence of the incarnation.
This title was proclaimed to underscore Jesus divinity but also his
humanity. Jesus is true God and true human. God himself gets born of a
Virgin from the city of Nazareth in Galilee. The role of the Virgin Mary in
the salvation plan of God is therefore higher and more exalted than all the
prophets, archangels, patriarchs and apostles. No one who comes before or
after her will be like her.
This title ³mother of God² is proved in the Holy Bible. When the Virgin Mary
was at her cousin Elisabeth the following happens:

³When Elisabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the Child in her womb leaped
with joy and she was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed with a loud
voice: blessed are you amongst women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
But how could it be that the mother of my Lord comes to me?² (Luke 1:41-43)
In the Psalm 118:27 we read that ³The Lord is God². So if Mary is the mother
of the Lord, then she is the mother of God.
³Whoever venerates the Virgin is in effect venerating Christ Himself. If to
honor one¹s mother is the first commandment with a promise (Eph. 6:2); (Ex.
20:12); (Deut. 5:16), should we not venerate our mother the Virgin, the
mother of the Lord Jesus Christ and the mother of the Apostles? The Virgin
is the one to whom the angel said: ³The Holy Spirit will come upon you and
the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One
who is to be born will be called the Son of God² (Luk. 1:35). She is the one
who was praised by Elisabeth who said: ³Blessed is she who believed, for
there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the
Lord² (Luk. 1:45)Š With regard to God¹s indwelling in the Virgin during the
Incarnation, the Church calls her the Second Heaven and the TabernacleŠ²
(Comparative Theology, page 111-112)

The Universal motherhood of the Virgin Mary

We believe that the motherhood of the Virgin Mary is not just limited to
Jesus Christ but also to all Christians. Therefore we call her the mother of
Christians and the mother of the Church. We believe this is proven by:
1. Jesus gave the Virgin Mary to the beloved disciple at the cross and said
to him: ³behold your mother² (John 19:27). John, the beloved disciple is a
symbol of all Christians. Therefore is the word of Jesus also directed to
us: ³behold your mother². The Virgin Mary is our heavenly mother and she
prays for, protects and helps her children.

2. In the Book of Revelation 12, the apostle St. John sees a vision about a
³women clothed in the sun² (12:1). This woman is the Virgin Mary who is
clothed with the grace of God (clothed in the sun). The whole chapter is
about the enmity between the Virgin Mary and Satan and we read that: ³in his
fury against the woman the dragon went away to fight against the rest of her
children, against those who obey the commandments of God and keep the
testimony of Jesus³ (12:17). When Satan was unable to defeat the Virgin Mary
he went away to fight against the rest of ³her children², that is to say the

[1] Justinus Dialogue with Trypho, 100, s. 249, The Ante-Nicene fathers,
Vol. I, The apostolic fathers ­ Justinus Martyr ­ Ireneus, New York, The
Christian literature company, 1890, USA
[2] Ireneus, Adversus Her. III, 22, 4, s. 455, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol
1, The Apostolic Fathers ­ Justin Martyr ­ Ireneus. New York: The Christian
Literature Company. 1890


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