Mary the Theotokos

Discussions about the Theotokos are secondary, these are not issues of dogmatics but more traditions of the Church that have a lot of emotional significance.  The only issue of dogmatics was at the 3rd Eccumenical Council where Mary was given the title “Theotokos” (God bearer), and this was as a defense of the unity of the person of Christ, as a counter to the Nestorians.  In the early church, discussions of Mary usually did not take place until after a person was received into the Church.

In the Orthodox Church, Mary is believed to have been conceived and born in a normal manner.  While there is debate about whether she is ‘without sin’, she was born into a fallen world and was subject to corruption and death – she needed Christ as her savior as we all do.

Her death is another are of tradition.  As she neared death, the apostles gathered to be with her (except for Thomas).  Thomas did not arrive until after her death, and when he went to the tomb to venerate her, it was discovered that her body was missing.  Tradition holds that Christ resurrected Mary at this time, before the Last Days.  This tradition is commonly called the “Assumption”.

The tradition of Mary being ‘ever virgin’ is also commonly believed in the Orthodox Church.  James, and the other siblings of Jesus are considered to be children of Joseph from his first wife.

The language used toward Mary is often ‘over the top’, and can be confusing to many people when they first hear it.  There are frequent passages where we say “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, or we ask for her intercession or mediation.  Some of this is poor translation, but all of it comes from using a language where terms are rich and full of complex meaning.  Mary saves us, not by dying for our sins, but by having born the Christ and praying for us.  She is the mediator by having brought forth God into the world, she is the portal between heaven and earth.  Mary has a special place of honor in the Church, as evidenced by the centrality of her icon next to Christ at the front of the sanctuary; but, she is always considered to be the ‘great example’ and not the ‘great exception’.

For more on the tradition of Mary, see:

John Maxamovich

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