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Doubting Thomas
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« on: September 02, 2003, 08:24:06 AM »

I was reading this AM in the harmony of the Gospels parallel accounts of Mary and the brothers of Jesus seeking to speak with Him while He was teaching His disciples (Matt 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; and Luke 8:19-21).  In these accounts, Jesus seemingly de-emphasizes His earthly family, for when He was told that they were seeking to speak with Him, He responded by looking to those seated before Him and calling them His "brothers, sister, and mother".  He indicated that those who do His will are His true family.

How then does this square with the special emphasis on Mary given by the Orthodox and Roman Catholics?  Yes, we are to call her "Blessed," for that is what she is since God chose Her among all other woman to bear and give birth to Himself.  On the other hand, Jesus' comments in these passages seem to "put the brakes" (so to speak) on any OVER-emphasis of His mother as He considered His disciples--those doing His will--just as important in terms of familial relationship.

The reason I bring this up is that this apparent OVER-emphasis of the Virgin Mary is still a "stumbling block" in further pursuing the Orthodox church for myself and especially for my wife.  After church this Sunday, she remarked that when looking up the schedule for the local catholic school (so she can coordinate her ballet classes) she saw a big picture of Mary with the title "Our Mother".  She said this was on the home page for internet site of the Catholic schools in our state.  She was shocked that there was no menion of God or Christ--whose Church is it anyway???  As you can see there seems to be an over-emphasis on Mary beyond what is justified by God's Revelation in Holy Scripture.

Are there any Orthodox comments on these three specific passages?  As much articles as I've read about Mary on Orthodox and Catholic websites, I've never seen any mention of these accounts.
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2003, 08:58:34 AM »

Dear Thomas,

In each of those passages you cite, it is easy to think that Jesus is de-emphasising His earthly family.  I must admit, I am not sure how to fully interpret such passages as this (and the whole thing about cursing the fig tree Wink ).  But, while waiting for others who may know a bit more about this to opine, I would just like to point out that in each of the passages, Jesus calls His mother and brothers "those who hear the word of God and keep it".  Now, can anyone dare say that Mary did not hear the word of God and keep it, she who bore in the flesh the Word of God?  I dare say she kept it better than any of us could ever hope to keep it, and so she, in both flesh and spirit, is truly His Mother, the Mother of God.
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2003, 09:52:49 AM »

What we must remember is that Mary is not the Great Exception to humanity, she is the Great Example.  When a woman exclaims "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that gave you suck" and Christ responds "Blessed, rather are those that hear the word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:27-28 RSV) He is not de-emphasizing his mother He is giving her even more honor that would appear at hand as Mary is our greatest example of one who heard the word of God and kept it.  She is both a beloved mother and a devoted disciple.  

These are not problem texts for the outlook on the Theotokos in Orthodox Christianity.  In fact, the passage I quoted is the gospel reading for nearly every Marian feast of the Church.  The reason The Church honors the Theotokos is not only for her acknowledgement to do God's will, but mostly that in everything she does she always points beyond herself to God.  Another text that is often made an example in criticising veneration of the Theotokos is the gospel account of the Wedding at Cana where after being asked to help with the wine problem Christ responds "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." (John 2:4 RSV)  What is not often mentioned is that the word for woman that Christ uses is an honorary term, not one that would take away honor as would appear from most english translations.  Again, this is not a problem text, but quite the opposite.  After the request from his mother, Christ carries out the request and in doing so performs his first public miracle.  This is the archetype for asking intercession from the Theotokos.  

There's a little book that is excellent on this topic, The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God by St. John Maximovitch, that is only $7.00 from amazon.  Read some of the reviews.  Also, I find many of the OCA Questions and Answers page to be quite good.  I hope this helps.
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2003, 05:04:05 PM »

Ditto what David wrote.

The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God, by St. John Maximovitch (as recommended by David above), is one of my all time favorite books. It helped me a lot.

Remember that if those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed, then Mary was doubly blessed: not only was she the Mother of God, she was also obedient!

Please note that Jesus' audience were Jews: people who were to a large extent relying on physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for their standing with God. They needed to hear that mere physical, fleshly relationships were no guarantee of God's favor, so the Lord let them know that what really matters is doing what God says to do.

To really get an idea of what the Lord thought of His Mother, take a look at what was on His mind as he hung from the Cross (John 19:25-27). He made sure His Mother would be cared for by St. John.

I personally think there was a reason He took care of this from the Cross and did not make prior arrangements: Jesus was honoring His Mother as a testament to all of mankind. Remember all the significant statements and events that took place on Golgotha and how the Cross serves as the Great Divide of mankind. The "good thief" on Jesus' right represents those who will repent and be saved; the unrepentant thief on His left (see also Matt. 25:31-46) represents all those who reject Christ. There in the center of reality, at the foot of the Cross, is the Mother of God entrusted to the care of the "beloved disciple," St. John, who, I believe, was standing in for all of us Christians.

There is something unfathomably deep there, something worth praying and meditating about.
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2003, 06:39:51 PM »

Thanks for the responses.  I'm not sure however that the three synoptic passages I mentioned were specifically addressed.  In them, when told that His mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak with them, He pointed to the disciples who were at His feet listening to them and called them His mother, brothers, and sister as they were doing the will of God.  This seems to indicate a deempaphasis of His biological relations (including Mary) at least at that point in time.

Now I don't doubt that Jesus loved His mother and cared for her by entrusting her to the care of the Apostle John while He was on the cross.  The key is that He was watching out for Mary by entrusting her to John and not vice versa.  Indeed, it is right to call her blessed but I have my doubts that she was sinless.  I've even read quotes from John Chrysostom to the effect that (referring to those passages I've mentioned) Mary didn't grasp who Jesus really was and dared to instruct Him as an adult.  

Maybe I do need to pray about it.  From what I've read thus far, it appears that much (but perhaps not all) of Marian devotion/dogma was innovation introduced into the church centuries later and not evident in Scripture or in the earliest apostolic/post-apostolic fathers.  However, I am open to evidence to the contrary.
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« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2003, 07:08:57 AM »

Actually some tradition has it, as exemplifed in some western art, that Mary was the one actually holding up St. John at the foot of the cross. The Theotokos is the hope of all Christian peoples, so it would make sense for this tradition to be true, for remember she intercedes for us before Christ, standing tall when we are at our worst. She is both mother and comforter.

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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2003, 07:54:59 AM »

Thanks for the responses.  I'm not sure however that the three synoptic passages I mentioned were specifically addressed.

As a convert from Southern Baptist, I also had a problem with this teaching of the Church. If you search my posts, you will see these same questions that you are asking. All I can tell you is to STOP focusing on one or two issues that APPEAR wrong to our limited WESTERN thought and just accept it. In time you will understand (although even now I can't tell you WHY I understand). But that is Orthodoxy. Do I venerate and "worship" the Theotokos as much as some Orthodox who appear to come close to the "cult" of Mary that is in the Catholic Church? Absolutely not. I just accept the teaching of the Church.

I just accept the fact that many, many, many saintly men and women came before me that have upheld and supported this teaching. And I believe that the Spirit works through the Saints. So I MUST acccept this teaching.

Do you understand the why's of everything that you "know"?

Anyway, a few explanations by the Saints on these verses:

Saint Ambrose:

"The Preceptor Himself is also the Executor of his own precepts. For on the point of prescribing for others that he who would not leave his father and his mother is not worthy of the Son of God, He first subjected Himself to the judgement...For if a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they are two in one flesh, this sacrament is rightly in Christ and in the Church. Thus parents must not be preferred to His own body. Here, He is not rejecting His Mother whom he acknowledged from the Cross. So one who understands that He came to earth for the purpose of the divine mystery and the assembly of the Church, he will leave his parents and brethren and embark on the ship (the Church)."

Saint Kyril of Alexandria:

"Do not let anyone imagine that Christ spurned the honor due his Mother, or contemptuously disregarded the love of His brethren.... What therefore does Christ wish to teach? His object then is to highly exalt His love towards those who are willing to bow the neck to His commandments....The greatest honor and most complete affection, is that which we all owe to our mothers and brethren. If, therefore, He says that they who hear His word and do it are His mother and brethren, is it not plain that He bestows on those who follow Him a love thorough and worthy of their acceptance?"

Saint Gregory the Great:

"We should know that a person who is Christ's brother and sister through his belief becomes His mother by preaching. He brings forth,as it were, the Lord Jesus, whom he introduces into the heart of the person litening; he becomes His mother, if through his words the love of the Lord is produced in his neighbors heart."

These quotes are from "The Orthodox New Testament, The Holy Gospels, volume 1". I strongly suggest that you get a copy of this bible.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0944359175/ref=cm_custrec_gl_acc/102-1995270-9216155?v=glance&s=books

At the end of each book of the New Testament, references and informative notes and writings of the Orthodox Fathers help you more fully understandthe scripture; Extensive explanatory notes packed with information on textual difficulties and theological concepts that enable you to discover the rich truths of the original Greek text; Chronological Index of Gospel Parallels; Instructive Appendix and Bibliography, and detailed listing of Greek codices explained.
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2003, 08:21:50 AM »

TomS,

Thanks for the response--that was along the lines of what I was looking for.

Peace.
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2003, 12:46:17 PM »

Quote
From Doubting Thomas:
Thanks for the responses.  I'm not sure however that the three synoptic passages I mentioned were specifically addressed.  In them, when told that His mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak with them, He pointed to the disciples who were at His feet listening to them and called them His mother, brothers, and sister as they were doing the will of God.  This seems to indicate a deempaphasis of His biological relations (including Mary) at least at that point in time.

Jesus pointed to His disciples, but to whom was He speaking?

"While Jesus was talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him" (Matt. 12:46).

"And a multitude was sitting around Him . . ." (Mark 3:32).

"Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd" (Luke 8:19).


Jesus was teaching the multitude of Jews. They needed to hear that one cannot simply rely on natural, physical relationships to gain entry into the kingdom of heaven.

"And do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matt. 3:9).

Did John the Baptist say that to dishonor Abraham or God's covenant with him? Did he not rather say it to teach his Jewish hearers of their need for personal repentance?

Quote
From Doubting Thomas: Now I don't doubt that Jesus loved His mother and cared for her by entrusting her to the care of the Apostle John while He was on the cross.  The key is that He was watching out for Mary by entrusting her to John and not vice versa.

It's not apparent that Jesus was merely entrusting His mother to St. John's care and not also St. John to the care of His mother.

"When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!'

Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home." (John 19:26-27).


I personally believe that this is an extremely significant event, mainly because everything that occurred on Golgotha was extremely significant, and not merely at the surface level.

Mary the Mother of God is a type of the Church (see Rev. 12). In this case I believe St. John represents all Christians, sons and daughters of the Church and members of Christ's Body. We are to regard Mary as our Mother just as we regard the Church as our Mother. And Mary has a special regard and care for all Christians as members of the Church which is the very Body of her Son.

Quote
From Doubting Thomas: Indeed, it is right to call her blessed but I have my doubts that she was sinless.  I've even read quotes from John Chrysostom to the effect that (referring to those passages I've mentioned) Mary didn't grasp who Jesus really was and dared to instruct Him as an adult.

Don't confuse Orthodox teaching with Roman Catholic teaching.

We Orthodox believe that only one human being was without sin, the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Of all those born of women, there is not a single one who is perfectly holy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in a special new way of immaculate birthgiving, did not experience earthly taint" (St. Ambrose of Milan, quoted in The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God, p. 55).

"God alone is without sin. All born in the usual manner of woman and man, that is, of fleshly union, become guilty of sin. Consequently, He who does not have sin was not conceived in this manner" (ibid).

"One Man alone, the Intermediary between God and man, is free from the bonds of sinful birth, because He was born of a Virgin, and because in being born He did not experience the touch of sin" (ibid).
 

Quote
From Doubting Thomas: Maybe I do need to pray about it.  From what I've read thus far, it appears that much (but perhaps not all) of Marian devotion/dogma was innovation introduced into the church centuries later and not evident in Scripture or in the earliest apostolic/post-apostolic fathers.  However, I am open to evidence to the contrary.

Marian excesses were innovations, but veneration of the Mother of God is part of the Apostolic Tradition.

Do not fall into the Sola Scriptura trap or the trap of setting up any individual - including and especially yourself - as the judge of what the Church has always taught.

Part of the reason for the condemnation of Nestorius at the 3rd Ecumenical Council, in Ephesus in 431, besides his faulty Christology, was his refusal to call Mary the Theotokos or Mother of God.

As at all the councils, the Holy Fathers were not inventing something new. They merely reaffirmed what the Church had always believed: that the Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary is truly the Mother of God and worthy of all praise.
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2003, 01:02:16 PM »

Indeed, it is right to call her blessed but I have my doubts that she was sinless.  

I don't consider Mary sinless. I have heard that there are those who considered her incapable of sinning while the Christ was in her womb. But not that she was sinless before or after his birth. What you are describing is a more Roman Catholic view of Mary.

I've even read quotes from John Chrysostom to the effect that (referring to those passages I've mentioned) Mary didn't grasp who Jesus really was and dared to instruct Him as an adult.  

Really? I find this very hard to believe. Do you recall where you read this? How could Mary not GRASP who Jesus was when she was TOLD by the Angel Gabriel at conception?
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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2003, 02:17:36 PM »

I don't consider Mary sinless. I have heard that there are those who considered her incapable of sinning while the Christ was in her womb. But not that she was sinless before or after his birth. What you are describing is a more Roman Catholic view of Mary.

So are we saying that the Orthodox view of Mary is that she indeed committed personal sins at some point?  Certainly I've never heard this.  Perhaps to say that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin, as the Roman Catholics say, is too much for the Orthodox to accept, because it makes Mary "superhuman" (the Great Exception rather than the Great Example), but is this what we are talking about?  Or are we saying that Mary, like any other human, was bound to and indeed did commit sins personally at some point?  I don't know if I could ever admit to the latter.  It is not the Orthodoxy that was passed on to me.
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2003, 02:53:49 PM »

Or are we saying that Mary, like any other human, was bound to and indeed did commit sins personally at some point?    

Well, according to scripture, I am aware of only one FULLY HUMAN individual who was sinless, and that would be the Christ.

Unless you are saying that Mary was not FULLY human, then she MUST have sinned. I will grant you that she was more Pure and had more Grace that any other human, but she was still human. And that means she sinned.
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« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2003, 03:17:28 PM »

Actually, Tom, it is a tenable belief within Orthodoxy to affirm that the Theotokos was sinless. The Bible also says that every man dies, but that's not totally true in every instance either. We cannot take passages in so woodenly literal a way that we do not allow for exceptions if God so chooses to make an exception. Mary's being sinless would not be like that of Christ's, however, as she would not and could not do it of her own power. She was not 100% God in edition to being 100% human, and so her sinlessness is indescribably and wholly different than that of Jesus. It's perhaps similar to how we say "holy things are for the holy" (ie. those who take communion), and a moment later say "one is holy... Jesus Christ". We are using "holy" in a different way, and mean a different thing, in each usage; it's the same with the word sinless.
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« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2003, 03:25:53 PM »

I understand what you are saying, but these are not REQUIRED beliefs of the Orthodox Church are they? 'Cause if they are, then I should have just become a RC, and joined the "cult of Mary". Because the arguments you make supporting mary's "sinlessness" smacks of RC arguments for the "immaculate conception"

Faith is hard enough as it is without having to stretch it to include beliefs not directly related to Christ or his saving Grace.

Why is it so important whether Mary was sinless or not? Was she the Theotokos? If we believe that, then all else falls into place and is not really important to our salvation.

(Man! I am really getting myself into trouble today!)


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« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2003, 03:58:28 PM »

Why does Orthodoxy call Mary "immaculate" then, Tom? All Holy? Is she not the Ark of the Covenant (Revelation 12), which, in the OT, was to be made of all pure materials. And if she became that way, instantly, by giving birth to Christ, she would have been killed. The Ark had to be constructed first.

As for the "Cult of Mary," what about all those weeping icons? You are sounding more protestant than Orthodox here.

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« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2003, 04:04:32 PM »

Allright, so if Mary was made sinless, were her Parents also sinless?

And concerning "weeping icons" and such, I don't believe in them. Does this also qualify me as not being Orthodox enough?
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« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2003, 04:05:36 PM »

No, were those who made the Ark of the Covenant sinless?

Matt
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« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2003, 04:08:43 PM »

So when did she "become" sinless?
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2003, 04:11:24 PM »

At conception. Just like Eve, but Mary accepted it. Nothing super human about it.
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« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2003, 04:13:57 PM »

Matt, I am only saying what I was taught in my catechumen classes by my Priest. That many of the ideas of Mary being "sinless", her assumption(sp?) into heaven after her death, etc. are not required beliefs.

If you choose to believe them, then that is fine.

Where did you get this belief that it is so important? What books/articles have you read that discuss this issue? What do you believe are the implications if I choose not to believe this?
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« Reply #20 on: September 03, 2003, 04:23:15 PM »


 i was taught in my catechumenate that the Blessed Theotokos was personally sinless but was subject to death. In her free will, she did not commit sin as opposed to the Immaculate conception.  Also, the Assumption if you read the liturgical texts of the Feast is part of the teaching (the Apostles came and found the Tomb of the Theotokos to be empty)
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« Reply #21 on: September 03, 2003, 04:30:56 PM »

In St. Vlad's seminary we were taught that the truth that Mary was taken to heaven is literally true, while the idea that the apostles were transported on clouds is imagery (they probably were there but God did not have to bring them on clouds since he is all powerful).

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« Reply #22 on: September 03, 2003, 04:33:06 PM »

In her free will, she did not commit sin as opposed to the Immaculate conception.  

Okay, I can accept the fact that she CHOSE not to sin voluntarily, but the involuntary sins are still a little hard to wrap my brain around.

But if you DO believe that she was sinless, then it contradicts some of the teachings of the church.

1) According to what I have read ("The Soul After Death") and also one of my Priest's sermons, the Blessed Virgin was foretold of her death by Gabriel 3 days before so she could prepare.

2) She then ascended the Mount of Olives to pray to the Lord to ask his help for she feared the Toll Houses (this is also where the teaching that the tress bowed to her as she ascended the mountain).

3) When she DID fall asleep, the Lord came down from heaven and carried her soul to heaven so that it would NOT have to go through the initial Judgement or through the Toll Houses.

4) And that If she were sinless, this would not have been needed, for she could not be accused by any of the demons of the air.

This is what I was taught.

Stop yelling at me.  Smiley

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« Reply #23 on: September 03, 2003, 04:47:01 PM »

As usual, the subtle differences between  Roman Catholic  dogma and Orthodox Catholic belief can become magnified. The RC dogmatized the Immaculate Conception, made it a required belief. The Orthodox hold that Mary, an extraordinarily pious and chaste maiden, was cleansed of what sin she possessed, IF ANY, when she willingly and joyously accepted to become the Theotokos.
I am not aware of any requirement that we MUST believe in Mary's state of original sin in one way or the other outside of the above.
I imagine the Orthodox tendency to leave many issues not directly addressed can be confusing to those who come from other churches.

BTW, have we answered DT's original question in this thread/forum?

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« Reply #24 on: September 03, 2003, 04:47:34 PM »

Bripat, she could have rejected the Immaculate Conception like Eve did.

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« Reply #25 on: September 03, 2003, 06:29:27 PM »



I've even read quotes from John Chrysostom to the effect that (referring to those passages I've mentioned) Mary didn't grasp who Jesus really was and dared to instruct Him as an adult.  

Really? I find this very hard to believe. Do you recall where you read this? How could Mary not GRASP who Jesus was when she was TOLD by the Angel Gabriel at conception?

Here's what I was referring to....

John Chrysostom Homilies on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, XLIV (12 :46-49):

That which I was lately saying, that when virtue is wanting all things are vain, this is now also pointed out very abundantly. For I indeed was saying, that age and nature, and to dwell in the wilderness, and all such things, are alike unprofitable, where there is not a good mind; but to-day we learn in addition another thing, that even to have borne Christ in the womb, and to have brought forth that marvelous birth, hath no profit, if there be not virtue.
And this is hence especially manifest. "For while He yet talked to the people," it is said, "one told Him, Thy mother and Thy brethren seek Thee. But He saith, who is my mother, and who are my brethren?"And this He said, not as being ashamed of His mother, nor denying her that bare Him; for if He had been ashamed of her, He would not have passed through that womb; but as declaring that she hath no advantage from this, unless she do all that is required to be done. For in fact that which she had essayed to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she hath power and authority over her Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning Him; whence also her unseasonable approach. See at all events both her self-confidence and theirs. Since when they ought to have gone in, and listened with the multitude; or if they were not so minded, to have waited for His bringing His discourse to an end, and then to have come near; they call Him out, and do this before all, evincing a superfluous vanity, and wishing to make it appear, that with much authority they enjoin Him. And this too the evangelist shows that he is blaming, for with this very allusion did he thus express himself, "While He yet talked to the people;" as if he should say, What? was there no other opportunity? Why, was it not possible to speak with Him in private?

You can verify that here....

http://ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-10/npnf1-10-50.htm#P4305_1371602
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« Reply #26 on: September 03, 2003, 06:35:58 PM »

Wow...I'm away for a few hours, and  there's a whole debate whether or not Mary was actually sinless.  (From the quote I cited above from St. John Chrysostom, not everyone seemed to believe that she was.  I've got similar quote from Tertullian commenting on the same passage if anyone is interested.)

TomS, you seem to bring up an interesting question:  Is it really required to believe in the sinlessness of Mary in order to be Orthodox?  Based on what I've read, there are some early Church Fathers who would be considered "un-Orthodox" if that was the case.
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« Reply #27 on: September 03, 2003, 07:13:02 PM »

Thanks for posting that DT --

But I really don't believe that it is saying that Mary did not fully grasp who Jesus was. I think it just shows the vanity of humans.  

I think it shows that she was just being a Mother and expected to still have control over him. Like at the wedding at Cannan, he at first was not inclined to change the water into wine because it was not yet "his time".  He eventually did it to honor his Mother.

BTW -- the Orthodox believe that one of the reasons that he DID give in to her was to show that the Theotokos COULD act as an intecessor for use with the Christ.

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« Reply #28 on: September 03, 2003, 07:17:57 PM »

Doubting Thomas,

Apart from this particular issue, remember that Saints do mistakes mistakes, and the (Orthodox) Church doesn't say otherwise. We don't follow along exactly with Justin Martyr's eschatological views, or Gregory of Nyssa's views of heaven/hell. A Father speculating on something and being wrong, with the Church coming to a different conclusion (or at least placing his speculation outside the circle of tenable Orthodox belief) is one thing. In such cases, sometimes condemnations are made post-humously, sometimes they aren't. However, it is not fair for us in modern times to say "well this saint and that saint held to belief X, therefore it's ok if I do". If the Church has weighed in on a subject since that saint's death, then the situation has changed. We will be judged differently than those saints of an earlier period, even if we are following exactly that saint of the earlier period into error. Saint John Chrysostom is one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church, no one is going to deny that. On the other hand, I have indeed seen quotes (which you apparently have as well) that has him saying things that are not in line with what the Orthodox teach today. Such fathers we don't consider unOrthodox, but we only say that we do not follow them on this issue or that. Indeed, it is rare that we follow any one father on a specific issue. Usually it is the chorus of fathers whom we follow. And even if one father is normally mentioned, it is usually because he articulated some truth best, not because he was necessarily elevanted above the other Fathers.
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« Reply #29 on: September 03, 2003, 07:20:56 PM »

Paradosis has posted some very wise words.
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« Reply #30 on: September 03, 2003, 07:30:03 PM »

Ultimately, I don't know how much of this is that important that it would affect our salvation.  My feeling is that it may not be so important in the long run; hence, this sort of thing may be open to speculation.  But it was my understanding that Orthodoxy taught that the Virgin never sinned personally.  I am open to correction, but certainly I've never seriously heard any Orthodox espouse the idea that the Virgin sinned, except for those who say so in extreme protest to the Latin dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Allright, so if Mary was made sinless, were her Parents also sinless?

But I don't think it is a question of whether Mary was "made" sinless.  This is the Latin dogma.  Did Mary perfectly cooperate with Grace so that she never personally sinned?  I think that is the question, and I've never heard an answer to that question other than "Of course!"

Matt, I am only saying what I was taught in my catechumen classes by my Priest. That many of the ideas of Mary being "sinless", her assumption(sp?) into heaven after her death, etc. are not required beliefs.

Perhaps the whole "Mary: Sinless?" question is open to debate, and thus not a required belief; I don't know.  But I thought her bodily Assumption into heaven was a required belief.  Every set of liturgical texts I've ever read for the feast of the Dormition makes reference to this.  Am I wrong?

Where did you get this belief that it is so important? What books/articles have you read that discuss this issue? What do you believe are the implications if I choose not to believe this?

I don't presume to speak for Matt, but it seems that the idea that this belief is important from a salvation perspective may be a Latin thing.  I don't know if such has ever been said in Orthodoxy.  But certainly, I've never heard until now that the belief that Mary was personally sinless was up for debate.  

i was taught in my catechumenate that the Blessed Theotokos was personally sinless but was subject to death. In her free will, she did not commit sin as opposed to the Immaculate conception.  Also, the Assumption if you read the liturgical texts of the Feast is part of the teaching (the Apostles came and found the Tomb of the Theotokos to be empty)

Right.  What I've been given to believe was that she was personally sinless.  That she was subject to death was because she was not preserved from the stain of original sin the way the Latins teach it (otherwise, she wouldn't die).  

In St. Vlad's seminary we were taught that the truth that Mary was taken to heaven is literally true, while the idea that the apostles were transported on clouds is imagery (they probably were there but God did not have to bring them on clouds since he is all powerful).

I'm curious what God's omnipotence has to do with the story of the apostles' being transported on clouds being imagery.  God, being all powerful, could bring them on clouds just as surely as He could've just providentially arranged for all of them to be in town that day, no?  Why, then, that particular imagery?  

But if you DO believe that she was sinless, then it contradicts some of the teachings of the church.

...

2) She then ascended the Mount of Olives to pray to the Lord to ask his help for she feared the Toll Houses (this is also where the teaching that the tress bowed to her as she ascended the mountain).

3) When she DID fall asleep, the Lord came down from heaven and carried her soul to heaven so that it would NOT have to go through the initial Judgement or through the Toll Houses.

4) And that If she were sinless, this would not have been needed, for she could not be accused by any of the demons of the air.


I find it interesting that the Church's belief in Mary's personal sinlessness is cast into doubt (whether or not it is an official belief), but the teaching on toll houses and demons of the air and such things related to the judgement are accepted as some of the teachings of the church.  I would've thought that the latter was even more questionable than the former.

The Orthodox hold that Mary, an extraordinarily pious and chaste maiden, was cleansed of what sin she possessed, IF ANY, when she willingly and joyously accepted to become the Theotokos.  

This is one other view I've heard, but I've usually heard it from those people who protest strongly against the Immaculate Conception dogma of the Roman Catholics.  

As a related matter, how is it that the Eastern Churches commemorate the Conception of the Mother of God in the womb of Saint Anna?  How do we have that feast if there was nothing distinctive about Mary before the Annunciation (and her consent to be the Theotokos) occurred?

Bripat, she could have rejected the Immaculate Conception like Eve did.

Who, Matt?  Mary could've rejected the IC?  The substance of the IC dogma doesn't seem to allow for Mary's free will choice of that type of conception.  Likewise, I don't think you can really say that Eve rejected an Immaculate Conception, since she was formed without original sin.  Instead, you could say she embraced sin.  But that doesn't constitute a rejection of something you had no control over.  Who consents to their own conception?  

I don't mean to sound confrontational in asking these questions and making these remarks, but some of the replies puzzle me, and I would like to know what everyone is actually thinking.
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« Reply #31 on: September 03, 2003, 07:32:09 PM »

Justin,

Excellent response!
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« Reply #32 on: September 03, 2003, 07:42:20 PM »

But I thought her bodily Assumption into heaven was a required belief.  Every set of liturgical texts I've ever read for the feast of the Dormition makes reference to this.  Am I wrong?

Not according to Father John. He made a point of saying that the Assuption was NOT a required belief. [GOA bashing commencing]

I find it interesting that the Church's belief in Mary's personal sinlessness is cast into doubt (whether or not it is an official belief), but the teaching on toll houses and demons of the air and such things related to the judgement are accepted as some of the teachings of the church.  I would've thought that the latter was even more questionable than the former.

You are right about the Toll Houses, Phil. Fr. John totally rejects them as do almost all of Orthodoxy now. I got that out of a book by Fr. Seraphim Rose.

BUT, the story of her going up the Mount of Olives and the Lord taking her sole to heaven so that there was not an initial judgement WAS a sermon by the other Priest, Fr. Steve.

I don't mean to sound confrontational...

You are not being confrontational at all, Phil.
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« Reply #33 on: September 03, 2003, 07:48:58 PM »

TomS,

Perhaps you would enjoy reading the following article from the OCA website in regards to the Dormition of Mary. Sections in bold are highlighted by me as they pertain to issues at hand.

http://oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Orthodox-Faith/Worship/dormition.html

The feast of the Dormition or Falling-asleep of the Theotokos is celebrated on the fifteenth of August, preceded by a two-week fast. This feast, which is also sometimes called the Assumption commemorates the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ's mother. It proclaims that Mary has been "assumed" by God into the heavenly kingdom of Christ in the fullness of her spiritual and bodily existence.

As with the nativity of the Virgin and the feast of her entrance to the temple, there are no biblical or historical sources for this feast. The Tradition of the Church is that Mary died as all people die, not "voluntarily" as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world.

The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary is without personal sins. In the Gospel of the feast, however, in the liturgical services and in the Dormition icon, the Church proclaims as well that Mary truly needed to be saved by Christ as all human persons are saved from the trials, sufferings and death of this world; and that having truly died, she was raised up by her Son as the Mother of Life and participates already in the eternal life of paradise which is prepared and promised to all who "hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:27-28)

In giving birth, you preserved your virginity. In failing asleep you did not forsake the world, 0 Theotokos. You were translated to life, 0 Mother of Life, and by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death. (Troparion)

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life, by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb. (Kontakion)

The services of the feast repeat the main theme, that the Mother of Life has "passed over into the heavenly joy, into the divine gladness and unending delight" of the Kingdom of her Son. (Vesper verse) The Old Testament readings, as well as the gospel readings for the Vigil and the Divine Liturgy, are exactly the same as those for the feast of the Virgin's nativity and her entrance into the Temple. Thus, at the Vigil we again hear Mary say: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour." (Luke 1:47) At the Divine Liturgy we hear the letter to the Philippians where St. Paul speaks of the self-emptying of Christ who condescends to human servitude and ignoble death in order to be "highly exalted" by God his Father. (Philippians 2:5-11) And once again we hear in the Gospel that Mary's blessedness belongs to all who "hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:27-28)

Thus, the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is the celebration of the fact that all men are "highly exalted" in the blessedness of the victorious Christ, and that this high exaltation has already been accomplished in Mary the Theotokos. The feast of the Dormition is the sign, the guarantee, and the celebration that Mary's fate is, the destiny of all those of "low estate" whose souls magnify the Lord, whose spirits rejoice in God the Saviour, whose lives are totally dedicated to hearing and keeping the Word of God which is given to men in Mary's child, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world.

Finally it must be stressed that, in all of the feasts of the Virgin Mother of God in the Church, the Orthodox Christians celebrate facts of their own lives in Christ and the Holy Spirit. What happens to Mary happens to all who imitate her holy life of humility, obedience, and love. With her all people will be "blessed" to be "more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim" if they follow her example. All will have Christ born in them by the Holy Spirit. All will become temples of the living God. All will share in the eternal life of His Kingdom who live the life that Mary lived.

In this sense everything that is praised and glorified in Mary is a sign of what is offered to all persons in the life of the Church. It is for this reason that Mary, with the divine child Jesus within her, is call in the Orthodox Tradition the Image of the Church. For the assembly of the saved is those in whom Christ dwells.

It is the custom in some churches to bless flowers on the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos.
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« Reply #34 on: September 03, 2003, 07:49:44 PM »

The GOA website reaffirms the belief in regard to assumption body and soul into heaven:

http://www.goarch.org/en/special/listen_learn_share/dormition/learn/index.asp

Introduction
The Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15 each year. The Feast commemorates the repose (dormition and in the Greek kimisis) or "falling-asleep" of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Feast also commemorates the translation or assumption into heaven of the body of the Theotokos.

Biblical Story
The Holy Scriptures tell us that when our Lord was dying on the Cross, He saw His mother and His disciple John and said to the Virgin Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" and to John, "Behold your mother!" (John 19:25-27). From that hour, the Apostle took care of the Theotokos in his own home.
Along with the biblical reference in Acts 2:14 that confirms that the Virgin Mary was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Church holds that she remained in the home of the Apostle John in Jerusalem, continuing a ministry in word and deed.

At the time of her death, the disciples of our Lord who were preaching throughout the world returned to Jerusalem to see the Theotokos. Except for the Apostle Thomas, all of them including the Apostle Paul were gathered together at her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ himself descended and carried her soul into heaven.

Following her repose, the body of the Theotokos was taken in procession and laid in a tomb near the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The bodily assumption of the Theotokos was confirmed by the message of an angel and by her appearance to the Apostles.

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« Reply #35 on: September 03, 2003, 08:21:11 PM »

But I really don't believe that it is saying that Mary did not fully grasp who Jesus was. I think it just shows the vanity of humans.  

I think it shows that she was just being a Mother and expected to still have control over him. Like at the wedding at Cannan, he at first was not inclined to change the water into wine because it was not yet "his time".  He eventually did it to honor his Mother.

Good work, TomS. This is Blessed Theophylact's interpretation as well, at least as to your first paragraph. And I think he'd have agreed with the next as well.

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« Reply #36 on: September 03, 2003, 08:48:15 PM »

Bobby,

I admit that the church does hold feasts to commemerate this teaching/belief.

But they also celebrate a feast for the Elevation of the Cross. Which teaches that Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine found the ACTUAL cross that our Lord was crucified on. Do you really believe that that is an HISTORICAL fact?

Feasts and such are used as symbols, to teach, and to give the faithful hope.
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« Reply #37 on: September 03, 2003, 08:48:45 PM »

Good work, TomS. This is Blessed Theophylact's interpretation as well, at least as to your first paragraph. And I think he'd have agreed with the next as well.

Dang! I got lucky!
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« Reply #38 on: September 03, 2003, 08:51:34 PM »

But they also celebrate a feast for the Elevation of the Cross. Which teaches that Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine found the ACTUAL cross that our Lord was crucified on. Do you really believe that that is an HISTORICAL fact?

Question: is this really such an impossibility?
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« Reply #39 on: September 03, 2003, 08:58:14 PM »

And this He said, not as being ashamed of His mother, nor denying her that bare Him; for if He had been ashamed of her, He would not have passed through that womb; but as declaring that she hath no advantage from this, unless she do all that is required to be done. For in fact that which she had essayed to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she hath power and authority over her Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning Him; whence also her unseasonable approach. See at all events both her self-confidence and theirs. Since when they ought to have gone in, and listened with the multitude; or if they were not so minded, to have waited for His bringing His discourse to an end, and then to have come near; they call Him out, and do this before all, evincing a superfluous vanity, and wishing to make it appear, that with much authority they enjoin Him. And this too the evangelist shows that he is blaming, for with this very allusion did he thus express himself, "While He yet talked to the people;" as if he should say, What? was there no other opportunity? Why, was it not possible to speak with Him in private?

I don't mean to knock Saint John Chrysostom, for whom I have much respect, but can we really say that this is a legitimate interpretation, much less the definitive Orthodox interpretation of this passage?  However holy he was, he could still get things wrong (as other saints did), and however holy I ever become, I don't think I would ever feel good about daring to ascribe such things to the Most Holy Mother of God.
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« Reply #40 on: September 03, 2003, 08:59:41 PM »

Not impossible, but think about it. Just all the sudden the cross that the LORD was crucified on is found by the wife of the Emperor who had converted to Christianity? How come there were never any writings by any disciples/apostles of the cross being saved? Don't you think that Paul would have known about this?

I say again, it is certainly not impossible. But because there was no HISTORY of it prior to her "finding it", it seems awful suspect.

But that is okay -- the Church used these things for a reason. To teach and to cause the faithful to remain focused. That is why there are so many feast days and fasts in the Church. They are tools used by the Church -- of God? Yes. But tools nonetheless.
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« Reply #41 on: September 03, 2003, 09:20:11 PM »


I don't mean to knock Saint John Chrysostom, for whom I have much respect, but can we really say that this is a legitimate interpretation, much less the definitive Orthodox interpretation of this passage?  However holy he was, he could still get things wrong (as other saints did), and however holy I ever become, I don't think I would ever feel good about daring to ascribe such things to the Most Holy Mother of God.    

Phil,
Apparently John Chrysostom was not alone in this interpretation, and I have read quotes from other Early Church Fathers who also stated (or at least implied) that Mary was NOT without sin.  Does this mean that she is not an example to follow?  Of course not.  It seems to me however that the idea that Mary was sinless arose later in the Church and was opposed, at least implicitly, by earlier church fathers.  How then does one know that a teaching of the church is indeed part of the Apostolic Tradition if it cannot be traced to the apostles?  It is one thing to assert that a certain belief or custom is "apostolic".  It is quite another to prove it by tracing it back to the Apostles, either from Scripture or extra-Biblical evidence such as early patristic writings or creeds.  To me this is the difference between Tradition and "traditions", but of course I could be wrong....
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« Reply #42 on: September 03, 2003, 09:28:34 PM »

I was reading this AM in the harmony of the Gospels parallel accounts of Mary and the brothers of Jesus seeking to speak with Him while He was teaching His disciples (Matt 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; and Luke 8:19-21).  In these accounts, Jesus seemingly de-emphasizes His earthly family, for when He was told that they were seeking to speak with Him, He responded by looking to those seated before Him and calling them His "brothers, sister, and mother".  He indicated that those who do His will are His true family.

How then does this square with the special emphasis on Mary given by the Orthodox and Roman Catholics?  Yes, we are to call her "Blessed," for that is what she is since God chose Her among all other woman to bear and give birth to Himself.  On the other hand, Jesus' comments in these passages seem to "put the brakes" (so to speak) on any OVER-emphasis of His mother as He considered His disciples--those doing His will--just as important in terms of familial relationship.

The reason I bring this up is that this apparent OVER-emphasis of the Virgin Mary is still a "stumbling block" in further pursuing the Orthodox church for myself and especially for my wife.

Doubting Thomas,

We are often worried about what Jesus thought about Mary.  We often forget the Evangelists.

In the Gospels, Joseph played an important role and then GǪ Poof!  Joseph is gone.  Yet, another Joseph shows up for Jesus’ burial, the flipside of the Gospel story about Jesus.  Just as a Joseph disappears into thin air after Jesus’ nativity, another Joseph appears out of thin air before his burial.  O, noble Joseph!

Notice how Luke likes to “globalize” things such as Jesus’ family.  Remember: Luke, supposedly Paul’s associate (per tradition), makes the Gospel accessible to the gentiles.  So, who is Jesus’ family?

You mention “special emphasis” on Mary.  Where does that special emphasis come from and why?

Much of it has to do with having either a soteriological approach or ontological approach to a particular person.  Soteriology deals with salvation or the economy of salvation and where that person played a role.  Ontology is a study of that person’s being or personhood.

Let me give an earlier example: Before Arius, Christians and their Christology was basically ‘soteriological.’  It was perfectly alright for doxologies to state: TO the Father, THROUGH the Son, and IN the Holy Spirit.  These terms, TO-THROUGH-IN, reflect how each person of the Trinity related to the economy of salvation: God works FROM-THROUGH-IN to reach us, and we return IN-THROUGH-TO God.  There was no concern about equality of persons in the Trinity.  This was all quite orthodox.

Then Arius introduced a confusion.

This natural ‘subordination’ of persons (subordinated in the sense of the economy of salvation and not subordination of status) was then transferred to an ONTOLOGICAL approach to God.  Since the Father was primary, the font or source, he was superior, if not greater, than the Son in their BEING.  The idea that we worshipped a hierarchical or graded Trinity was innovative.  But it made sense to most of the Christian world, hence almost the entire church became Arian.

Then some folks noticed Arius’ mistake.

We cannot make ontological conclusions with soteriological premises.  But Arius and others like him did.  The debates in the early councils, especially the first, was over the soteriology-ontology confusion.  The natural and orthodox subordination of the Son to the Father in the economy of salvation (soteriology) was translated into the heterodox subordinationism of persons (ontology).

Poop hit the fan!

[I’m sure you are probably wondering where I am going with this, but hold on GǪ]

Liturgy was changed: Basil the Great changed the orthodox subordinationist doxology of “Glory to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” to “Glory TO the Father, and TO the Son, and TO the Holy Spirit.”  This was to protect the equality of the persons in the Trinity since we began to approach God ontologically, even in worship.

A “special emphasis” on the persons of the Trinity was begun GǪ and continued for a few more Ecumenical Councils.  This was the time when Alexandrian and Antiochian Christologies hammered it out.

Since Arius, we as Orthodox and Catholic Christians, have approached Christology and Trinitarian Theology with a lot of emphasis on the ‘ontology’ approach.

Now, there is Mary.

The Council of Ephesus called her “Theotokos” (Mother of God).  This was not so much a title that reflected Mary’s person (ontology), but her role in the economy of salvation (soteriology).  In the economy, Mary gave birth to Jesus, who was God-man.  That is what she DID, not what she WAS.

Later, the West began a course of approaching persons more and more from an ontological approach.  Much bordered on speculation.

Due to the corner that Scholasticism painted Mary into, an ‘escape hatch’ was needed to have Mary protected from a type of sin that was of concern to Western theologians.  Her person needed to be ‘immaculate.’  Not only did they hyper-emphasized her sinlessness (wasn’t Jesus the only one without sin?), but hyper-emphasized Mary’s being as if she wasn’t human or wasn’t in need of salvation (didn’t she herself refer to her son, Jesus, as “Lord and Savior?”).

Much ado was made over her person needing a special pronouncement to be held as dogma.  Given the corner that the West painted themselves into, it WAS needed, ontologically speaking.  But, of course, it was a bad theological move because it was bad theology to begin with.  Can we muster forgiveness in our hearts to absolve them of their excursions into speculative theology?  Well, didn’t we go that route with Christ?

But, of course, we were dealing with God, not a woman who would give birth to him.  Big difference.

Mary’s death was another instance when a dogma had to be proclaimed.  Her person’s end had to be stated: she was bodily assumed into Heaven.  The Easterners say she “fell asleep” and we can’t make positive claims on her person.  Of course, Eastern churches do name their temples after the Assumption, but not after the Dogma of the Assumption.

The East’s emphasis on Mary was never to go the way of extreme-ontology.  Mary was simply the Mother of God.  What better title than that can we give her?  Is the status of her person necessary for salvation?  This is the main “stumbling block.”

Are there any Marian-Arians out there?

There was/is no need to dogmatize Mary’s person.  She wasn’t God.  She DID play a very important role in the economy of salvation though.  She is also adored greatly in the Churches too.  She is everyone’s Mama.

Interesting how the only two ‘dogmas’ about Mary’s person deal with times and events outside the canonical Gospels.  The context of her conception and death are from non-canonical sources.  Hmmmmm.

Should we wag the finger at the West for such ontological dogmas about Mary?  Probably not.  There are just as many bizarre statements about Mary and others in our church hymns.  But we all love Mary so much, so it doesn’t matter.

About your concern about what Jesus has to say about Mary:
Is it Jesus or the Evangelist who is trying to make a point?  We often lose sight that the Gospels were written BY the Evangelists FOR the Church.  If we are so concerned about approaching Jesus’ relationship to his mother due to some contemporary insight into psychology or philosophy of personhood (search for the historical Jesus kind of thing), then we might be just as guilty as Arius with our confusing of the ‘globalization’ of the family with the ‘ontological’ consciousness of Jesus of his mother’s person.

Sometimes, economy is much more enriching and salvation-oriented than ontology.  I never met a person converted or saved by embracing ontology.  The question can then be asked: So what?  Where do we go from here?  How does this affect my salvation?

Joe Thur


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« Reply #43 on: September 03, 2003, 09:54:11 PM »

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Liturgy was changed: Basil the Great changed the orthodox subordinationist doxology of “Glory to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” to “Glory TO the Father, and TO the Son, and TO the Holy Spirit.”  This was to protect the equality of the persons in the Trinity since we began to approach God ontologically, even in worship.

I personally doubt that "through the Son and in the Holy Spirit" was the original phrasing given the baptismal formula proclaimed by our Lord Himself in Matthew 28:19:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" .

That baptismal formula is repeated in The Didache, which is arguably the oldest extra-biblical Christian document:

"Immerse in running water 'In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost' " (The Didache, 2:7, in Penguin Books' Early Christian Writings).

Quote
Now, there is Mary.

The Council of Ephesus called her “Theotokos” (Mother of God).  This was not so much a title that reflected Mary’s person (ontology), but her role in the economy of salvation (soteriology).  In the economy, Mary gave birth to Jesus, who was God-man.  That is what she DID, not what she WAS.

How does one separate what a person is from what they do?

If Mary is not primarily and essentially the Mother of God, what is she?



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« Reply #44 on: September 03, 2003, 11:13:19 PM »

Actually, Linus, if you read St. Basil's Letters, especially number 27 or 29 (I can't remember exactly) Basil himself talks about why he made the change.

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