Something I have been pondering a lot lately has been the understanding we have of the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos and the relation this has to the notion of Christ being born in a supernatural way which precludes the pains of childbirth.
I had always understood that the virginity of the Theotokos referred to an absence of sexual intercourse, or perfect continence. This is an important belief for us, I'd say.
But many (or possibly most) Eastern Christians believe that Mary did not suffer the discomforts of a natural childbirth, at least if they have thought about it at all, and that the Lord Jesus miraculously exited the womb by extraordinary means. I have personally never been comfortable with this explanation, I neither believe nor disbelieve it, but I am strongly inclined to doubt.
I am wondering if the tradition that the Theotokos did not suffer a natural childbirth is dogmatic in Orthodoxy, or is it a popular opinion? I have never encountered anything formally defining the belief, at least at the level of a Conciliar decree.
What I have understood is that the Theotokos is a virgin for her entire life, something I can easily accept and have always believed.
Does anyone have information that can be shared on the subject?