The Following is an answer given in response to the same quesiton posed oh several months ago to me by a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Your query included the following Bible citation, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That may be found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23.
A couple chapters later, in the same letter, St. Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
In Epistle to the Hebrews 4:15, St. Paul stated, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” The Problem
Having, no doubt, often heard that St. Mary was without sin, you raised an excellent question: “What is the Church’s teaching on this subject?”Our Method
Any proper response, should, at least, review samples of what many thoughtful people have, for ages, debated as either an enigma or a contradiction. We should be careful not to take Bible citations out of context. Rather, to solve this problem we should consider it in the context of the whole fabric of our salvation. The evidence stretches from Adam and Eve through Jesus Christ, to the present. First, consider human nature, as created, how it was compromised by sin; next, how God provided for us to be freed from what we have inherited, and, finally, to rise above our personal failings.Evidence from Scripture and Tradition
God is the perfect source of all truth. Being perfect, He has no need of change. He made us like Him; but, insofar as we choose to stray from that ideal, it is we who need to change. He, our creator and source of all goodness, chose to empty Himself, “taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, . . .” (Philippians 2:7) in all things except sin, in order to recall creation to repentance.
God created Adam and Eve as prototypes. As their descendents, all real human beings share the same basic characteristics as their immediate offspring. Notice that God, as Trinity made One and Unity in Trinity, is quoted as saying, “Let us make man in our image.” (Gen 1: 26)
Our destiny is to become, in time, more like God, that we may live with Him eternally. Studying the person and role of the Virgin Mariam, offers us glimpses of how God saves us, so that we may respond according to His will, as she did. Every Bible citation mentioning her, is there, to help us appreciate her success story, as the pride of our kind. She overcame the tyranny of the deceiver, to bring the Saviour back into the world He had created. Even God’s latent promise in that curse He addressed to the serpent, turned out to be a prophecy about Mariam.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 KJV)
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.’ (Genesis 3:15 NRSV)
Also, we see ought to recognize as fulfilled, through her, God’s promise to Abraham:
“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Genesis 17:7 & 10 KJV)
The following five citations are oblique, yet relevant, references to Mariam’s response to the challenge that the Archangel Gabriel delivered to her:
“my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my saviour; you save me from violence.” (2Samuel 22:3 NRSV)
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 KJV)
“Show your steadfast love,
Who saves those seeking refuge
from their adversaries at Thy right hand.” (Psalm 16 (17):7)
“I give you thanks, O Lord and King,
and praise you, O God my Saviour.
I give thanks to your name,” (Ecclesiasticus 51:1)
“Flee from the shadow of this age, receive the joy of your glory; I publicly call on my saviour to witness.” (2Esdras 2 : 36)
The following citations are more obvious indicators of God’s dramatic intervention in history, through Mariam, on our behalf:
“28 And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. 31 Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. 33 And of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:28-33 Douay-Rheims Version)
46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50 NRSV)Different interpretations
Not withstanding various Bible translations, in subsequent generations, discern the real differences between those calling her, “Blessed.” Some have over-emphasized philosophical logic, irrational competitive name calling, and those maintaining balanced theology regarding the mysteries of our salvation. Some, using poetic imagery, have gotten as carried away with their own effort, as others who have tried to explain away every miracles. Yet, any attempt to add to, or diminish “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints;.“ (Jude 1:3) threatens that balance enjoined by 1John 4:3 and 2John 1:7, thereby, ultimately, denying the basis of our salvation.Latin Roman interpretation
The history of the Latin Roman Churches interpretation began with the writings of Augustine of Hippo. “In Augustine's view (termed "Realism"), all of humanity was really present in Adam when he sinned, and therefore all have sinned. Original sin, according to Augustine, consists of the guilt of Adam which all human beings inherit. As sinners, human beings are utterly depraved in nature, lack the freedom to do good, and cannot respond to the will of God without divine grace. Grace is irresistible, results in conversion, and leads to perseverance.” (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/original_sin
That position, inspired Anselm of Canterbury’s doctrine of “Substitutional atonement.” Anselm’s explanation reinforced the notion of inherited guilt, as a consequence of “original sin.” Eventually, this line of reasoning caused a controversy, lasting almost eight centuries. In 1854, the papal doctrine of “The Immaculate Conception” was proclaimed to resolve that controversy. While virtually all Protestant and Reformed thinkers reject this notion, they seem to fail to perceive and reject the underlying concepts upon which it was based.Eastern and Oriental Orthodox interpretation
Preferring either “Ancestral sin,” or “Original stain,” to “Original sin,” both the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches reject the Roman concept of inherited guilt. Therefore, they describe the Holy Virgin Mariam as being fully human. Conceived by Joachim and Hannah. (see chapters 4 & 5 at http://www.theworkofgod.org/Aparitns/PevglJms.htm#THE
PROTEVANGELIUM OF JAMES She was conceived with that weakness that all of us have inherited from Adam and Eve. Even though she did not personally commit any sin, she was freed from all stain, when the Archangel Gabriel announced God’s will for her. (Luke 1:35)
Many Old Testament types and prophecies are wonderfully reviewed in the Ethiopian Anaphora of our Lady by St. Hyracos Bishop of Behnesa, Egypt, and the collection of prayers in the popular piety known as Widasse Mariam, attributed to St. Isaac the Syrian. Although, we shall not, now, go into such detail; we highly recommend these sources for increasing one’s spiritual discernment on the topic. Below, we shall briefly summarize our response to your question.Conclusion of response
Any doctrine which describes the Virgin Mariam as either more or less that truly human, undercuts her authentic role in our salvation initiated by her Son, Jesus Christ. We rightly call her “The God-bearer,” because He Who was born of her, was conceived in her womb, by the Power of the Most High, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. We rightly revere her as His Mother, because she alone was responsible for the humanity of Him Who described Himself as, “the son of man.”
Orthodox Christians believe, although she did not personally commit any sin, St. Mariam was born with the same stain that each of us has received from Adam and Eve. From her infancy, she was guided to develop that attitude that habitually responds saying, “Here I am, the Lord’s servant. Be it done unto me according to your word.” At the Annunciation, by the Angel Gabriel, she was purified, by divine grace, to be able to bear the Son of God. By annually commemorating her physical death, we affirm her humanity. When we celebrate the Message of St. Gabriel, we recall how God miraculously transformed her to become the second Eve, the mother of all who repent to find everlasting life in the body of Christ, her Son.