And good health to everyone!
Some thoughts on Mother Mary and her conception.
I am sure I do not need to remind those here of the English Orthodox Liturgy which says, “By the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Savior save us.”
Other prayers go on, “ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God” and “the immaculate, spotless one.” I have heard more prayers in modern Orthodox churches on the feast of her when the immaculateness stressed, “This day, O faithful, from saintly parents begins to take being the spotless lamb, the most pure tabernacle, Mary” … “She is conceived...the only immaculate one” … “Having conceived the most pure dove.”
It appears that the Immaculate Conception is a large and renewed debate these days. Of all the literature I have seen about The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos, there is one book that stands out above the rest, by that very title. No other book, written in any language, more exhaustively or completely covers the Pangaea (All-holy one), the Meeter Theou (Mother of God), than this book. About 600 pages long and with more references than we find in most scholarly works, I remember being glad to see it. From the preface of this book there is this:
Being mindful of mindful of the words of St. Theodore the Studite, “It is better to contribute what one can than to leave the whole task undone,” we undertook this work of compiling the life of our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
Here are some other noteworthy references.
2 Thess. 2:15 Stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught.
St. Ambrose - Mary’s life is a rule of life for all.
St. John of Damascus - The whole mystery of divine economy is personified in her.
In the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great there is this hymn of St. John of Damascus, “In thee, O full of grace, all creation, both the company of angels and the race of men doth rejoice. O hallowed temple and spiritual paradise, boast of virgins: from thee God was incarnate and became a child, He, our God Who existed before the ages, for He made your womb a throne, and He made thee more spacious than the heavens. In thee, full of grace, all creation doth rejoice; glory be to thee!”
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The Orthodox Church accepts the validity of the information supplied in the first five chapters of the Protoevangelium of James concerning the conception by the righteous foremother of Christ, Anna.
Further on there is part of a chant from St. Romanos - “But with joy the barren woman bears the Theotokos who sustains our life.”
The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Righteous Joachim saying, “…that which is born may be acknowledged to be the gift of God and not the product of lust… According to thy vow, she shall be devoted to the Lord from her infancy, and she will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb. Mary shall not eat or drink anything unclean, nor shall her conversation or life be among the crowds of the people, but in the temple of the Lord, that it might not be possible to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her.”
The Archangel Gabriel then appeared to Righteous Anna speaking of the conception of Mary, “She shall never know a man, but alone, without precedent, as an immaculate and undefiled virgin, without intercourse with man, she shall bring forth a Son.”
Thus the Church chants, in regard to conception of Mary, that the pre-eternal Word has now made for Himself a holy throne on earth, having prepared a living heaven in His love for man. For from a barren root He has made a life-giving branch springing up for us, even His mother.
St. Ambrose of Milan - “Of all those born of women, there is not a single one who is perfectly holy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As for myself, I personally believe that it is valid Holy Baptism which works to wash away all sin. After reading that book I have come away believing that the real problems with the Immaculate Conception is how the Roman Catholic Church defined it as dogma using the confused ideas of original and ancestral sin put forth by Augustine.
It is true that Mary needed a savior and grace from God, just like everyone else. In the beginning of the Holy Gospel of Luke Mary says she rejoiced in her Savior.
In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles her preeminent position among the women is shown when she is mentioned by name.
So long as we do not call her an angel, God or add some heretical Latin notion to her like Augustine’s ancestral sin then things should not be too bad. The devil is in the details though.
Mary’s unique virtue was that she so pleased God by the cleansing of her asceticism towards Him that she is proclaimed blessed among women.
Georgios Scholarios, 15th century defender of the Immaculate Conception, voted for union at the Council of Florence, and later became Patriarch of Constantinople after it had fallen to the Turks. Having looked closely at the problems during this time I have not seen anything showing Mark of Ephesus disapproving of the Immaculate Conception either. Mark did not seem to stand up for all the Orthodox positions on things, which would have made his case stronger. I think time has shown how things really are with the Latin captivity of Orthodoxy.
Fr Casimir Kucharek, a Ukrainian Catholic priest, explains, “The great St Gregory Palamas himself (d.1359) believed that Mary was purified from the very first of her existence.” He said that the Greek Orthodox Church believed the Immaculate Conception until the 15th century when Greek theologians began to propose the idea of Mary being only made immaculate at her Annunciation.
But belief in the Immaculate Conception in eastern Slavs was undisturbed until the late 17th century when the Skirzhal (Book of Laws appeared in Russia, and proposed what the Slavs considered as a “novel doctrine” of the Greeks (that the Theotokos was purified at the Annunciation).
Kucharek says these “new” views were branded blasphemous by the Russian Old Believers, who maintained the ancient customs/traditions however small or inconsequential.
[This does not say that the Old Believers accept the Augustinian ideas of the original or ancestral sin attached to the relatively modern Latin dogma, with its errors concerning Immaculate Conception of Mary.]
Fr Kucharek points out that when Greek Patriarch Anthimos VII wrote his reply to Pope Leo XIII’s letter in 1895, listing what he believed to be the errors of the Latin’s, the Patriarch found no fault with the Latin belief of the Immaculate Conception, but objected to the Pope defining it as a required dogmate. (I add that it is doubtful that the Patriarch's reply was drafted all alone by him, but rather he was assisted by his inner group of bishops and theologians alongside him).
The Russian Orthodox Church Synod of 1666 had approved Simeon Polatski’s Zezl Pravlenia (Rod of Direction), wherein it states textually, “Mary was exempt from original sin beginning with her conception.” I also learned that this Synod, which many suggest was nearly an Ecumenical Council (due to so many different Orthodox authorities being present) also accepted (for the first time in Russia) the sprinkle form of baptism offered by the Latin’s. So if anyone has accepted the errors of the Latin’s in so many areas it were those who followed in this Synod.