Clemente, you have misunderstood what I have written. At no point have I defended the Immaculate Conception. What I have done is to affirm the purity and sinlessness of the Theotokos. I do not need the Immaculate Conception in order to do so, just as St John Damascene and St Gregory Palamas did not need the doctrine in order to do so.
Nor did Sergius Bulgakov support the IC dogma. Quite the contrary. He emphatically rejected it. He rejected it because of its dependence on a formulation of grace which he deemed un-Orthodox. He rejected it because it severs Mary from the holiness of Israel. But Bulgakov did strongly affirm, as have many Orthodox through the centuries, the sinlessness of the Theotokos. He also affirmed the sinlessness of the Forerunner.
It appears to me that the promulgation of the IC dogma has led some Orthodox into a false dilemma: if the IC dogma is false, then the Virgin Mary must be a sinner just like the rest of us. How very Protestant, if I may say so. Curiously, this dilemma seems more Western than Eastern. If one does not uphold a Latin view of original sin (whether Augustinian or Thomist), then why is it impossible that the Theotokos may have led, by the grace of God, a sinless, immaculate life? Again I refer the brethren to the Marian homilies of St Gregory Palamas. Read these sermons and then tell me that St Gregory would have entertained, even for one moment, the possibility that the Theotokos was ever guilty of personal sin, that she ever lived in a state of spiritual alienation from the Holy Trinity. I'll close with this passage from Met Kallistos Ware:
In Orthodox devotion Mary is constantly termed panagia, 'all-holy,' panamomitos, 'without blemish,' and achrantos, 'without spot' or 'immaculate.' ... Orthodoxy understands this title [panagia]to mean that Mary is free from all actual sin, although she was born subject to the effects of original sin, in common with the other holy men and women of the Old Covenant. Thus the Orthodox Church sees in her the supreme fulfilment of sanctity in a human person--the model and paradigm of what it means by God's grace, to be authentically human.
What do you do with the Fathers who assert that she was never touched by the blemish of any sin...ever...and who assert that her holiness is unique among all others of mankind...and that she does not carry "spot or stain"....etc. Some of that is liturgical language. When I point out the extreme language of holiness contained in the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple, I am told that is only a minor feast. Does that mean that lex orandi only applies to major feasts? etc.
When saints disagree, we follow the Vincentian canon and look to the oldest Fathers to see what the original belief was. And the oldest clear statements (by some of the most respected and learned authorities) are pretty clear that the idea that the Theotokos was completely sinless is a later development. This is particularly true when one considers that the mechanism for its development is pretty obvious*, whereas its decidely unclear how an original tradition of sinlessness could have faded to the point that St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century could speak of the Theotokos sinning without it being controversial (one would think his enemies would have leapt at the chance to add accusations of impiety against the Mother of God against him if the idea of her sinlessness had any currency at all at the time).
*Everyone loves the Theotokos. Indeed, the more one enters into union with Christ, the more one loves His Mother who becomes *our* mother, just as His Father becomes Our Father. Normal people think their mother is a saint when she's just a nice lady. But our mother in Christ actually is a saint, and not just a saint but the greatest saint that ever lived. If normal people think their normal human mother is practically perfect, where is there to take that emotion applied to the Theotokos but exaggerate her from greatest saint to completely immaculate. And at the same time, the fastest way to start a fight with most people is to say something disparaging about their mom--in many cases, you can start a fight by saying something absolutely and objectively true about their mother, if you simply put it crudely enough. So everyone has an incentive to praise the Theotokos. No one has an incentive to tick their fellow Christians off by saying something negative about her, even if the statement were to be true. So lots of people compete to praise her as extravagantly as possible--while no one 'competes' or even wants to say 'well, yes, she was purer than any other human being ever (i.e., the purest), but she wasn't sinless.'
That is very interesting. Then there is no lex orandi with the following festal text:
Taken from The Festal Menaion translated from the original Greek by
Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware.
The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
At Orthros the Magnificat is replaced by these words:
"Beholding the entry of the All-Pure, the angels were struck with
amazement, seeing how the Virgin entered into the Holy of Holies" (p.
190 Menaion )
The kontakion of the feast:
"The All-pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and
Virgin, the sacred treasure of the glory of God, is led today into the
house of the Lord, and with her she brings the grace of the divine
Spirit. Of her God's angels sing in praise: "She is indeed the
heavenly Tabernacle." (P. 195 Menaion)
From Small Vespers:
O ye gates of the sanctuary, into the Holy of Holies receive ye a Virgin,
the spotless Tabernacle of God the Almighty.
Ye virgins, joyfully bearing torches, attend the pure Virgin on her way, as
she enters the Holy of Holies, the Bride of the King of all.
The living Bridal Chamber of God the Word receives bread from the hands of a
divine angel, as she dwells in the Holy of holies.
From Great Vespers:
Led by the Holy Spirit, the holy Maid without spot is taken to dwell in the
Holy of Holies. By an angel is she fed, who is in truth the most holy Temple
of our Holy God. He has sanctified all things by her entry, and has made
godlike the fallen nature of fallen men.
After thy birth, O Lady and Bride of God, thou hast gone to dwell in the
temple of the Lord, there to be brought up in the Holy of Holies, for thou
art thyself holy: and Gabriel then was sent to thee, O Virgin all-undefiled,
to bring thee food. All the powers of heaven stood amazed, seeing the Holy
Spirit dwell in thee. Therefore, O Mother of God without stain or blemish,
glorified in heaven and on earth, save our kind.
Ann, truly blessed by God's grace, led with gladness into the temple of the
Lord the pure and ever-Virgin, who is full of grace, and she called the
young girls to go before her, lamps in hand. `Go, Child,' she said, `to Him
who gave thee unto me; be unto Him an offering and a sweet smelling incense.
Go into the place which none may enter: learn its mysteries and prepare
thyself to become the pleasing and beautiful dwelling-place of Jesus, who
grants the world great mercy.'
From Eve of old the transgression came upon mankind, and now from Eve's
stock has flowered forth our restoration and incorruption, even the
Theotokos, who is brought today into the house of God.
Be glad today, O Joachim, and rejoice exceedingly in spirit, O Ann, who now
present unto the Lord your daughter, as a three-year old victim of
sacrifice, holy and utterly without spot.
The ewe-lamb of God without spot, the dove without blemish, the tabernacle
that is to hold God, the sanctuary of the glory, has chosen to dwell in the
Three years old in the flesh and many years old in the spirit, more spacious
than the heavens and higher than the powers above, let the Bride of God be
praised in song.
Seeing the beauty of thy soul, O undefiled Virgin, Zacharias cried out with
faith: `Thou art our deliverance, thou art the joy of all. Thou art our
restoration, through whom the Incomprehensible appears comprehensible to
O Virgin all-undefiled, past understanding is thy wonders! Strange is the
manner of thy birth: strange is the manner of thy growing. Strange and most
marvellous are all things concerning thee, O Bride of God, and they are
beyond the telling of mortal men.
A child in the flesh but perfect in soul, the holy Ark enters into the house
of God, there to feed upon divine grace.
The ranks of angels rejoiced exceedingly and spirits of the righteous were
glad, when the Mother of God was led into the sanctuary.
Mary without spot rejoiced in body and spirit, dwelling as a sacred vessel
in the temple of the Lord.
Receiving heavenly food, she who was to become the Mother of Christ the
Saviour according to the flesh, increased in wisdom and grace.
O pure Theotokos, thou hast a clean and shining beauty of soul, and art
filled from heaven with the grace of God. Thou dost ever enlighten with
eternal light those who cry aloud in gladness: O pure Virgin, thou art truly
high above all.
Beholding the entry of the All-Pure, the angels were struck with amazement,
seeing how she entered marvelously into the Holy of Holies.
Thy wonders, O pure Theotokos, surpass the power of words. For in thee I see
something beyond speech; a body that was never subject to the taint of sin.
Therefore in thanksgiving I cry to thee: O pure Virgin, thou art truly high
Angels and men, let us honour the entry of the Virgin, for in glory she has
gone into the Holy of Holies.