The Veneration of the Holy Virgin Mary
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28).” This salutation addressed to the Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, forms a part of the hymn of the Church most frequently sung in her honor. Elizabeth, the Virgin’s cousin, considering it an honor for the Mother of her Lord to visit her, uttered the words, “And whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me (Luke 1:43)?” It was during this visit by the Virgin Mary to her cousin, that the Holy Virgin spoke the words that serve as the principal hymn sung in her honor during the Matins service: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed (Luke 1: 47-48).”
“Filled with the Holy Spirit”, Elizabeth cried out: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1:41, 42).” It is this same honor given the Mother of God by her cousin that has been the blueprint for all generations of the Church to call her blessed. Furthermore, when Our Lord spoke the words, “Behold thy Mother (John 19:27), to John, as He was hanging on the cross, she became the Mother of all Christians! It is clear that had she given birth to other children, there would have been no need for Christ to have asked John to take care of His mother, thus His words were spoken for the benefit of all His followers.
The Virgin Mary in the Orthodox view is not regarded as a mediatrix or co-redemptress, as she is seen in some Roman Catholic circles. We see her as an intercessor for us, and our prayers to her are in the form of requests for her intercession. The Orthodox concept of the Church is the basic reason for the invocation of the Theotokos and all the saints.
The Orthodox Church teaches that the Church Militant on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven are not separated from one another, but are in fact united together in One Lord Jesus Christ. Just as we here on earth are charged with the task of praying for one another, so too do those who have gone on before us, continue to pray for us. We are united in prayer, and united in a mutual bond of love. Just as it is right that we who are members of the Body of Christ, pray for one another, we know that this Body, which is the Church, is united together, even in death. Thus, how much more profitable it is that we invoke the prayers of the saints, who’ve won the battle, and are in heaven with Christ.
The Scriptures make it clear that those who are in heaven remain aware of what happens here on earth, for how else would they know to rejoice over the conversion of one sinner? “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).” In Luke 20:36, we read, “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
We honor and venerate the Virgin Mary as “more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious without compare than the Seraphim …” and invoke her name in every service, seeking her intercession before the throne of God. We have given her the title “Theotokos” (Greek for “Birth-giver-of-God), and as the “Mother of God”, having given birth to Christ Jesus, Who is both True God and True Man, how could we simply lay her importance aside, and forget her?
How can we deny the Theotokos an important role in the life of the Church? Our historic theology has always insisted upon the two perfect natures of our Lord Jesus Christ; true God and true Man. The Virgin Mary gave birth to the humanity of the Incarnate God, and the redemption of the human race was made possible through the union of God and man in Christ. The doctrine of the Imaculate Conception, as taught by Roman Catholics, and the insistence she had other children by Joseph, as demonstrated in the theology of many of today’s Protestants, are the result of a departure from the Ancient Church’s divinely guided recognition of the place of the Holy Virgin in the life of the Christian. The departure from the Ancient Church’s teachings regarding the Holy Virgin have even caused some to deny the virgin birth of Christ, leading many liberal protestants to ultimately question such basic Christian teachings as the divinity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, and Christ’s resurrection.
For we Orthodox, the doctrine of the Imaculate Conception, suggesting the Holy Virgin was born without sin, would make being the New Eve, impossible, for she would not have been able to sin. Yet to be the New Eve, she had to be like the original Eve. The Holy Virgin had, like the original Eve, the gift of free will, and she chose, freely, not to sin.
Through the Prayers of the Holy Virgin, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.
Love in Christ,
About the author
Fr. Tryphon is the Abbot of the Monastery of the All-Merciful Saviour, which was established in 1986 by Archimandrite Dimitry (Egoroff) of blessed memory. The Monastery is under the omophore of His Eminence Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.