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Author Topic: Theotokos or Mother of God?  (Read 10546 times) Average Rating: 5
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« on: May 06, 2010, 12:15:33 PM »

A small treatise on Theotokos - Mother of God
by the Abbot of Old Forge

Ever since I learned to say formal prayers as a little lad, I have called the
most holy Virgin "Mother of God," and I will continue to do so, by Gods' grace,
for the rest of my life, hoping that even with my last words I will invoke her.
Although I confess to being, as one writer would categorize me, a "lazy former
Roman Catholic", it is not for this reason that I say "Mother of God," but
because such is the normal English for the title Theotokos.

The word "Theotokos" itself appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, but with a
mark indicating that it is a foreign term. The first citation of the word is
only from 1874, from the Tractarian E.B. Pusey, who in using it immediately
clarified it by adding, Mother of God. The writer who alleges use of the term in
the middle ages cites a pre-Reformation prayer in which "otheotocos" appears
(from Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars - the correct reference should be to
p. 274, not p.24). He must be aware that it was only used in a rather
superstitious context, in a prayer of exorcism, in which various other "names of
God" from various languages are used, e.g., Sother, Unigenitus, Adonay and even
(I don't know why) Serpens (Serpent) and Vermis (Worm.) This one dubious
instance surely does not attest to any ancient usage of Theotokos in English.
The Theotokos is she who bore God - His Mother. Some translations have used
Birthgiver, but that sounds barbarous. Imagine: I am introducing my dear old
parent to someone. I certainly wouldn't say, "John, meet my birthgiver." No - my
Mother!

Theotokos is a beautiful word, but it is Greek. To insist that it be used
habitually for the blessed Virgin would be comparable to saying that we must not
call the Deity "God", but "Theos", or our Saviour "Christos" instead of
"Christ." No! Greek is Greek, and English is English.

If we habitually use Theotokos, we shall have to keep explaining to people what
it means, since, outside of theology students, literate Orthodox or
Greek-speakers it will not be understood.

Every language has its own evolution, its own genius. A writer presents,
untranslated, a lengthy list of Greek words called "Theotokonyms." Nice, but
what does it prove? Only that Greek can form all sorts of compound words.
English is remarkably expressive and has a huge vocabulary, but often it
expresses by a phrase that which another language might express in a single
word. This is not a fault, it is just the nature of the language. When the
church books were translated into Slavonic it was possible to form compounds
that might not have existed previously, since the language was at a formative
stage. But English is already a developed language, and it has its own idiom.

So, we don't have a single word for chelovekoliubets, but we can say Lover of
mankind, He Who loveth man, the Friend of man, etc.

For that matter "homoousios" is in the O.E.D., and it is a theological term of
vital importance, yet no one is contending that we ought to retain it in an
English translation of the Creed. We say " of one essence" or "consubstantial",
because that is English.

I don't think that it is a good principle of literary translation to insist that
every occurrence of a word of the original always be rendered by the same word
in the translation. The translation must fit the context. So, sometimes we can
say God's Mother, or Theotokos, while retaining "Mother of God" as the most
familiar form of our Lady's title.

To the writer who did not understand the Latin word "Deipara" which is an exact
equivalent of Theotokos: The "-para" does not come from the verb paro, parare -
to prepare, but rather from pario, parere, peperci, partus - to give birth, from
which we get such words as parturition - childbirth and post-partum depression -
that which occurs after giving birth. As we shall soon sing, once we have past
the hurdle of the fast, "Ecce quod natura/ Mutat sua jura/ Virgo parit pura/ Dei
filium." (Behold, how nature changes its own laws: A pure Virgin gives birth to
the Son of God.)

I think there is a place for the word Theotokos in English, as an alternate name
for the Mother of God, particularly in such contexts as the hymn "It is truly
meet." But the normal, usual, common, frequent word in English is and should be
Mother of God, because that's English, not Greek, Latin or Slavonic.

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« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2010, 12:23:16 PM »

Quote
Theotokos is a beautiful word, but it is Greek. To insist that it be used
habitually for the blessed Virgin would be comparable to saying that we must not
call the Deity "God", but "Theos", or our Saviour "Christos" instead of
"Christ." No! Greek is Greek, and English is English.

I don't insist on others using Theotokos, of course, but I do use it in my own prayers (even when the book I'm using doesn't have it). It's not like it's unheard of for English speakers to borrow words from foreign languages. I strongly encourage using English in parishes where that is the language that will be best understood, but a foreign word here or there isn't going to hurt, IMO.
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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2010, 12:23:32 PM »

You should have made this a poll. I vote for regular usage of "Mother of God" with "Theotokos" as an occasional title, but not the norm.
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« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2010, 12:28:44 PM »

Christ is risen!

Problem is, that Mother of God is Meter Theou, not Theotokos. Same in Slavic, Boghoroditsa versus Mat' Bozhija, Arabic Walidat Allah versus Umm Allah, etc. The only language that seems to have the same question of usage is Romanian, where Maica Donmului (the Lord's dear little Mother) seems to be more common than Născătoare de Dumnezeu.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos
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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2010, 12:44:05 PM »

Problem is, that Mother of God is Meter Theou, not Theotokos. Same in Slavic, Boghoroditsa versus Mat' Bozhija, Arabic Walidat Allah versus Umm Allah, etc. The only language that seems to have the same question of usage is Romanian, where Maica Donmului (the Lord's dear little Mother) seems to be more common than Născătoare de Dumnezeu.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos

But what about longstanding usage, and this whole idea of "baptizing" cultures that Orthodoxy enters? This term has a huge precedent in our cultural context and should be embraced. As I've said before, the fact that it causes so much scandal among the Protestants is an excellent indicator of its accuracy, because usually they prefer "Mother of Christ." Sound familiar?  Wink
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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2010, 01:23:52 PM »

Problem is, that Mother of God is Meter Theou, not Theotokos. Same in Slavic, Boghoroditsa versus Mat' Bozhija, Arabic Walidat Allah versus Umm Allah, etc. The only language that seems to have the same question of usage is Romanian, where Maica Donmului (the Lord's dear little Mother) seems to be more common than Născătoare de Dumnezeu.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos

But what about longstanding usage, and this whole idea of "baptizing" cultures that Orthodoxy enters? This term has a huge precedent in our cultural context and should be embraced. As I've said before, the fact that it causes so much scandal among the Protestants is an excellent indicator of its accuracy, because usually they prefer "Mother of Christ." Sound familiar?  Wink
LOL. Of course.

That aside, if English were like the Scandinavian languages or German or Dutch, it would be one thing.  But there are very few Anglo-Saxon purists, and English is practically a Romance language (Latin distinction Mater Dei and Dei Genetrix): Protestants get apoplectic over loans like "liturgy" too.
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« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2010, 01:30:24 PM »

Of course, I'm not consistent in this regard, because I prefer "Pascha" over "Easter" any day. But then again, I'm all for "Christmas" over "Nativity." Also, I'm normally all for the Old Calendar. The only time it annoys me is on Christmas!!!
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« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2010, 02:45:57 PM »

Mother of God is not an adequate translation of Theotokos thus I favor the traditional honorific.

My reasons are this and feel free to disagree.  I think Theotokos is a more intimate term linking Christ to Mary since it leaves no doubt that Mary did give birth to the incarnate Christ and thus links Him to us.  Mother has become, whether in English or any number of other languages, a generic term often applied metaphorically.  Of course, one can be a mother without actually physically giving birth to a child.  As EO theology is rooted in the incarnation, in that God became one of us so that all that we are may be healed, the term Theotokos conveys this very simply and efficiently whereas Mother of God does not.

Again, my opinion.
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« Reply #8 on: May 06, 2010, 03:45:57 PM »

That's a good point.   There are those jurisdictions which use "birthgiver of God" following Hapgood.  But if we use "Mother of God" in many places and "Theotokos" in a few such as "it is truly meet," that still affirms the Incarnation, no? 
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« Reply #9 on: May 06, 2010, 07:09:24 PM »

I think rendering "Theotokos" as "Mother of God" makes some prayers, like "It is truly meet," awkward. "It is truly meet to bless thee, Mother of God, ever blessed and most blameless, and the Mother of our God."

By now, the use of "Theotokos" has become standard in many anglophone parishes and switching back to "Mother of God" would be jarring.
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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2010, 07:19:54 PM »

I think rendering "Theotokos" as "Mother of God" makes some prayers, like "It is truly meet," awkward. "It is truly meet to bless thee, Mother of God, ever blessed and most blameless, and the Mother of our God."

Yes, that would be an instance where Theotokos would be appropriate to keep, and one of the few moments in my prayers that I keep the form Theotokos.
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« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2010, 07:36:01 PM »

I prefer Theotokos Greek/English , Serbian Bogorodica.... Grin
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« Reply #12 on: May 06, 2010, 08:21:36 PM »

I prefer Theotokos Greek/English , Serbian Bogorodica.... Grin

Serbs cannot even say 'Theotokos.'   Either they turn the 'th' into a t or an f.  laugh
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« Reply #13 on: May 06, 2010, 09:00:14 PM »

I prefer Theotokos Greek/English , Serbian Bogorodica.... Grin

Serbs cannot even say 'Theotokos.'   Either they turn the 'th' into a t or an f.  laugh

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« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2010, 09:06:04 PM »

I prefer Theotokos Greek/English , Serbian Bogorodica.... Grin

Serbs cannot even say 'Theotokos.'   Either they turn the 'th' into a t or an f.  laugh

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« Reply #15 on: May 06, 2010, 09:20:43 PM »

I prefer Theotokos Greek/English , Serbian Bogorodica.... Grin

Serbs cannot even say 'Theotokos.'   Either they turn the 'th' into a t or an f.  laugh

"Sibboleth!"

You must be an Ephraimite!

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« Reply #16 on: May 07, 2010, 01:17:28 PM »

That's a good point.   There are those jurisdictions which use "birthgiver of God" following Hapgood.  But if we use "Mother of God" in many places and "Theotokos" in a few such as "it is truly meet," that still affirms the Incarnation, no? 

consistency is key, I think.  If we use Theotokos here and Mother of God there I think that it could possibly lead to confusion.
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« Reply #17 on: May 08, 2010, 01:36:18 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God. 
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« Reply #18 on: May 08, 2010, 01:38:00 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?
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« Reply #19 on: May 08, 2010, 01:51:22 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?

Don't forget to call your birthgiver on Sunday to wish her a happy Birthgiver's Day!
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« Reply #20 on: May 08, 2010, 01:52:29 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?
All orthodox Greek [Theotokos]or Serbian [Bogorodica]or other Slavic tongues [Bogoroditsa]it sounds respectfull ,also it doesn't sound  bad, in english ,when i hear Birthgiver my mind translates it to theotokos and Bogorodica must be a ethnic thing....

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« Reply #21 on: May 08, 2010, 02:07:22 AM »

Christ is Risen!

The English and the Irish, the Welsh and the Scots, were Orthodox for nearly 1000 years.  Long before Singidunum adopted Orthodoxy we Irish were Christians -and ORTHODOX!  We did not use the term "Theotokos." Why should we adopt it now for our prayers? 

What's next?  I like the way that Greeks refer to the Mother of God as Panagitsa. but I am NOT going to start calling her that in English.
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« Reply #22 on: May 08, 2010, 02:15:22 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?

Perhaps "God-bearer" might sound better in english?

I personally prefer saying "Theotokos".
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« Reply #23 on: May 08, 2010, 05:16:34 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?
 

Baptized and chrismated Orthodox do everyday in English. Lest anyone forget not to judge the very church one seeks to sacramentally join.
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« Reply #24 on: May 08, 2010, 05:41:07 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?
 

Baptized and chrismated Orthodox do everyday in English. Lest anyone forget not to judge the very church one seeks to sacramentally join.

There are a few idiocies in the English which has been artificially created for Orthodox worship.  Who can use Orlov''s text with a straight face.... "and the Saints vociferating unto the tri-une effulgence.

Now someone is trying to foist on the clergy of the Russian Church Abroad "the Very Most Reverend" as the title for higher hierarchs in the litanies.  It's so not English!  It make you think at once of the amusing titles which Gilbert and Sullivan created for their operettas.

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« Reply #25 on: May 08, 2010, 09:47:37 AM »

Usually in place of theotokos parishes here use birthgiver of God.

That sounds so stale and cold. Who calls anyone a "birthgiver"?

Perhaps "God-bearer" might sound better in english?

It does sound better, but it produces even more confusion when we consider the "God-bearing (Theophoric) Fathers."

Theotokos is fine. It's hardly the first time the English language has borrowed Greek words.
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« Reply #26 on: May 08, 2010, 10:27:15 PM »

I prefer to use English were I can but in most prayers Mother of God sounds odd so I tend to use Theotokos.
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« Reply #27 on: May 09, 2010, 01:36:52 AM »

I prefer to use English were I can but in most prayers Mother of God sounds odd so I tend to use Theotokos.
Christ is Risen!

For us oldies who have been used to 'Mother of God' all our lives it was very odd when first the OCA and then the Jordanville Prayerbook switched to 'Theotokos.'

English speakers in the UK and around the Commonwealth generally refused to change to 'Theotokos' andf continued to use the original printings of the Jordanville Prayerbook with 'Mother of God.'  This Prayerbook was photocopied and was also loving rebound when needed-I know that mine was.

Vladyka Mitropolit Laurus then gave his blessing for the original  'Mother of God' version to come back into print and we are very grateful for his kindness and solicitude. 
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« Reply #28 on: May 15, 2010, 06:11:38 PM »

Personally, in English I prefer "God-bearer" to "Mother of God". Of course when translating from the Latin one is more likely to be stuck with the latter phrase.
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« Reply #29 on: May 15, 2010, 06:57:01 PM »

I find the name Mother of God sufficiently satisfying. 
I hear the Gospel ring clearly in the name, Mother of God.
In the name Mother of God, God draws near to us.
The name Mother of God communicates that God is with us!
The name Mother of God communicates God is like us even as He is unlike us!

It poses and answers its own questions and frees the observant intellect to be born outside its own box...which so many talk about and so little do. 

John




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« Reply #30 on: May 15, 2010, 09:15:15 PM »

In Russian Churches in America, we call the priest's wife, "Matushka", not "Little Mother" or "Priest's Wife", so what is the problem with not translating Theotokos, especially since "Mother of God" is not a perfect translation?
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« Reply #31 on: January 12, 2011, 11:49:54 PM »

In Russian Churches in America, we call the priest's wife, "Matushka", not "Little Mother" or "Priest's Wife", so what is the problem with not translating Theotokos, especially since "Mother of God" is not a perfect translation?
I was looking for what is the Chinese for Theotokos, and this thread came up (my son has expressed a desire to learn Chinese).  I found 上帝之母 Mother of God, and 圣母 Holy Mother but is there something based on 生 or 生育 or 产 or 养, give birth/produce/yield etc?

Btw, skimming through some Chinese Orthodox texts, it seems that the Orthodox have retained  上 帝  for God, despite the ruling of the Vatican long ago about that being unacceptable
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Rite_Controversy
am I reading that right?
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« Reply #32 on: January 13, 2011, 01:02:11 AM »

In Russian Churches in America, we call the priest's wife, "Matushka", not "Little Mother" or "Priest's Wife", so what is the problem with not translating Theotokos, especially since "Mother of God" is not a perfect translation?

Well, the English language doesn't have a longstanding conventional term for a priest's wife, which is why it is borrowed. English does, however, have a longstanding historical title for the Virgin Mary, and that is the Mother of God. When you don't translate it, English speakers immediately ask "What does that mean?" "Oh, it means God-birthgiver!" Give me a break. You tell people it means Mother of God, and you get on with things, because that's what it is in English.

Most Holy Mother of God save us!
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« Reply #33 on: January 13, 2011, 01:10:18 AM »

EDIT--Bad joke is bad, abort, abort...  angel
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« Reply #34 on: January 13, 2011, 01:14:37 AM »

Mother of God is, [Bogo Majka ]in serbian...or[ Majka Bozhija]........ laugh
                        [God's Mother ]         or    [ Mother Of God]
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« Reply #35 on: January 13, 2011, 01:49:02 AM »

In Russian Churches in America, we call the priest's wife, "Matushka", not "Little Mother" or "Priest's Wife", so what is the problem with not translating Theotokos, especially since "Mother of God" is not a perfect translation?

Well, the English language doesn't have a longstanding conventional term for a priest's wife, which is why it is borrowed. English does, however, have a longstanding historical title for the Virgin Mary, and that is the Mother of God.
Actually, no, it doesn't. The phrase doesn't appear in the Book of Common Prayer, which uses the longstanding historical title of Blessed Virgin. Before the BCP everything was in Latin, which had Mother of God and Theotokos as I pointed out about, which came out in English as "þe blissid virgine."

Since English has at least 4 centuries experience with priest's wives, and it has vicaress but vicar has fallen out of disuse in America.

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When you don't translate it, English speakers immediately ask "What does that mean?" "Oh, it means God-birthgiver!" Give me a break.

Funny, no one asks me to translate telephone, television, theology, theologian, tocology or any number of Greek terms English uses every day.

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You tell people it means Mother of God, and you get on with things, because that's what it is in English.

Nestorius could say as much.

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Most Holy Mother of God save us!
Amen!
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« Reply #36 on: January 13, 2011, 01:53:58 AM »

Nestorius could say as much.

Nestorius would have said Mother of Christ and denied the use of Mother of God.
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« Reply #37 on: January 13, 2011, 02:09:41 AM »

Nestorius could say as much.

Nestorius would have said Mother of Christ and denied the use of Mother of God.

No, saying the adoptive Mother of God posed him no problem, confessing she gave birth to God did.
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« Reply #38 on: January 13, 2011, 02:57:20 AM »

No, saying the adoptive Mother of God posed him no problem, confessing she gave birth to God did.

I didn't say the Adoptive Mother of God, I said the Mother of God. Mothers give birth. You're really stretching it there.

Do you have a problem calling St. Joseph the Betrothed the Father of God?
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« Reply #39 on: January 13, 2011, 03:09:06 AM »

In Russian Churches in America, we call the priest's wife, "Matushka", not "Little Mother" or "Priest's Wife", so what is the problem with not translating Theotokos, especially since "Mother of God" is not a perfect translation?

Please see the first message in this thread by the Abbot of Old Forge.
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« Reply #40 on: January 13, 2011, 03:14:54 AM »

Never heard St . Joseph called Father of God ever, Only Guardian of the Infant Christ...or ..StepFather....But mostly Guardian...



No, saying the adoptive Mother of God posed him no problem, confessing she gave birth to God did.

I didn't say the Adoptive Mother of God, I said the Mother of God. Mothers give birth. You're really stretching it there.

Do you have a problem calling St. Joseph the Betrothed the Father of God?
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« Reply #41 on: January 13, 2011, 03:18:48 AM »

Never heard St . Josheph called Father of God ever, Only Guardian of the Infant Christ...or ..StepFather....But mostly Guardian...

I was making a point about his whole "adoptive" disclaimer.
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« Reply #42 on: January 13, 2011, 09:39:59 AM »

No, saying the adoptive Mother of God posed him no problem, confessing she gave birth to God did.

I didn't say the Adoptive Mother of God,

Neither did I. You capitalized the "A."

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I said the Mother of God. Mothers give birth. You're really stretching it there.

No, just repeating what the Church as said in Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Greek, Slavonic, Latin etc., all of which use the general term for mother in "Mother of God," and the specific term that precludes an adoptive sense and mandates the sense which Nestorius denied.  "Mother of Christ" wasn't the title he got apopletic about.

It's a defiency the English should fix, and since English usually turns to Greek and Latin to fill in its lacunae, "Theotokos."

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Do you have a problem calling St. Joseph the Betrothed the Father of God?

I hear him called the Foster Father of God all the time.
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« Reply #43 on: January 13, 2011, 09:52:03 AM »


It's a defiency the English should fix, and since English usually turns to Greek and Latin to fill in its lacunae, "Theotokos."

No! You are creating an artificial problem.  Please read message 21.
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« Reply #44 on: January 13, 2011, 11:12:06 AM »


It's a defiency the English should fix, and since English usually turns to Greek and Latin to fill in its lacunae, "Theotokos."

No! You are creating an artificial problem.  Please read message 21.

I agree with Father  and the author of the orignial posting on this one. As to the Slavic use of 'Bohorodice' and its dialectic variants within the Church Slavonic I have always found it interesting to note to the supporters of 'Theotokas' that when SS. Cyril and Methodius brought Christianity to the Slavs and introduced the Liturgy in a local tongue they used neither any of a number of common Latin honorifics for the Virgin Mary such as "Mariæ semper Virginis"nor the Greek "Theotokos". Clearly, they wanted to convey what Theotokos meant to the ears of the 'heathen' Slavs.  I believe that the literal translation of Bohorodice is in fact 'Birth Giver of God' as opposed to 'Mother of God' but I may be in error. In the devotional hymns of Ukrainians and Rusyns the term 'Maria, Mati Boze' may also be commonly heard although it is often interchanged with 'Bohorodice.'

Never the less, the use of 'Mother of God' in the context of Orthodox prayer clearly, to me at least, respectfully expresses her unique role in our Faith.

As to the "Matushka" argument, I think it works the other way for the long term. The Greeks use "Presvetera", the Ukrainians and Rusyns use "Pani" and so on. To one unfamiliar with the cultural lingo of a parish that is confusing, to say the least. I don't have an answer to that for the future, but I don't think it supports the argument of using a non-English based term.
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