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parhelion
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« on: December 08, 2012, 11:31:15 PM »

Hi all,

For sometime now I have been attracted to Orthodoxy.  However, like many from a protestant background there are faith issues that I have never had to deal with.  One of those is the perpetual virginity of Mary.

I have no trouble believing in it from a mytho-poetical perspective.  I can see it being the articulation of an intuition of Mary's identity in narrative form.  It is a "true" story.  Furthermore, I would have no trouble deferring to the Church's teaching when asked about it by speaking of it in terms like "the Church has always believed . . . "

However, I cannot say that I believe it is true in the same sense that I believe in the Incarnation or the Holy Trinity or that Jesus is risen from the dead.  It may be true in that same sense.  It's just that at this point in time out of a sense of intellectual honesty I do not believe in it like I believe in other articles of the faith.

It would be my expectation that this will mean I will always be an outsider looking in because as long as this is what I believe I am automatically excluded.  But I just thought I would ask to see what hope there might be for someone like me.

Thanks!
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2012, 12:46:50 AM »

Hi all,

For sometime now I have been attracted to Orthodoxy.  However, like many from a protestant background there are faith issues that I have never had to deal with.  One of those is the perpetual virginity of Mary.

I have no trouble believing in it from a mytho-poetical perspective.  I can see it being the articulation of an intuition of Mary's identity in narrative form.  It is a "true" story.  Furthermore, I would have no trouble deferring to the Church's teaching when asked about it by speaking of it in terms like "the Church has always believed . . . "

However, I cannot say that I believe it is true in the same sense that I believe in the Incarnation or the Holy Trinity or that Jesus is risen from the dead.  It may be true in that same sense.  It's just that at this point in time out of a sense of intellectual honesty I do not believe in it like I believe in other articles of the faith.

It would be my expectation that this will mean I will always be an outsider looking in because as long as this is what I believe I am automatically excluded.  But I just thought I would ask to see what hope there might be for someone like me.

Thanks!

If you're asking if it'll be an obstacle for potentially being received into the Church, then I'd say probably not. It may be dishonest though, but I could see it being otherwise.

If you're asking if it's "admissible" as an Orthodox view of Mary, then I'd be likely to say no. There are undoubtedly some Orthodox that disagree, but this disbelief is in tension with the life and teachings of the Church.

Either way, it's good to be honest on these things and don't try to rush through them too quickly. Smiley
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« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2012, 12:48:20 AM »

If the Holy Theotokos was under the impression that her and Saint Joseph were going to have a sexual relationship, why did she ask the Angel Gabriel how she could possibly have a child?
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« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2012, 01:35:01 AM »

The ever-virginity of the Theotokos is a dogma of the Church. It must be accepted. Those who deny it are anathematized.
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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2012, 01:56:44 AM »

I've never understood why this is a hang-up for so many people.

But I do understand that it is. To each of us his own issues. No judgment here.

So, here's my question for you: Why do you find it so hard to think that the Mother of God never had sex or that God preserved her virginity after the birth of Christ? There's way weirder stuff in the Bible.
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« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2012, 04:23:21 AM »

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Why do you find it so hard to think that the Mother of God never had sex or that God preserved her virginity after the birth of Christ? There's way weirder stuff in the Bible.

Yup. The great majority of Christians of most stripes happily accept that Christ rose from the dead, that He raised Lazarus who had been dead for four days, and do not question the other miracles of healing that the Gospels speak of. Yet, somehow, the ever-virginity of the Mother of God is a stumbling block ....  Huh

The ever-virginity of the Theotokos is a dogma of the Church. It must be accepted.

Precisely. There is absolutely no wiggle-room on this, as far as Orthodoxy is concerned.
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« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2012, 04:35:29 AM »

It would be my expectation that this will mean I will always be an outsider looking in because as long as this is what I believe I am automatically excluded.  But I just thought I would ask to see what hope there might be for someone like me.

Of course there is hope! Conversion is not a matter of somehow "willing" oneself to believe things that go against one's common sense. It is a gradual, qualitative change of one's whole being. It takes time, and, like all things worthwhile, obstacles and setbacks are to be expected!

The Church's stance on the Trinity, Mary's Virginity, and Christ's resurrection are not negotiable, but that should not stop you from continuing to inquire and attend services, if you so desire. I would encourage you to speak to a priest about these things. He might be able to explain them to you from a new perspective. The conversation will probably not convince you on the spot, but it might lead you to do some research or spend some time praying, which could lead to a genuine change in your views.

You should by no means try to force yourself to believe something. Stay honest and keep asking questions. If Orthodox is the "True Faith" as its adherents claim, it can handle a little honest scrutiny. Wink
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« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2012, 07:05:44 AM »

There are a couple of things that will give you some insight into where I am coming from.

It appears to be the case that the Protoevangelium of James (PoE) is pseudepigraphal.

For those of you that don't know how memory works it is something like this (in my current understanding).  An event happens and we "file" away our understanding of the event and sensory experience associated with that event.  When that memory comes to mind we are actually reconstructing the memory from those things, it is not like replaying a video recording of the event.  In the process of mentally reconstructing what happened what we experience by way of our memory takes the form of what we think must have happened according to our interpretation of the event.  It is at this point that we are somewhat suggestable and will remember certain details as being true of the original event when in fact they were not.  Or, another way of putting it is that details will added to fill out the narrative based on what we believe must have happened and this can be for any number of reasons.

Where this comes into play is that given the circumstances of it's documentation by PoE (as I understand them at this point), and the way memory works this looks to me as being a case where the details of Mary's remaining a virgin for the rest of her life were added (in the corporate memory of the church) to her being a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception by the power of the Holy Spirit because it is thought that it must have been the case. 

Again, I'm not saying that this is what happened, but to me it casts a shadow of doubt about this literally being the case.  Along with that I have no hang ups about it or believe that it is weird.

Perhaps what is the most pertinent point to me is if a story like this, given the actually support that it has from a purely historical point of view, were put forward by a member of another religion about the basis of their religion Christians would target that and use it against them in a discussion of that faith.  I believe very much that no religion, Christianity included, should be given a free pass from inquiry.

That is why I have no trouble seeing it as a story that is profoundly theologically true while it is the case that it may or may not have been literally true.  In fact, I have no trouble with the idea of submitting to tradition while having actual doubts (if that makes sense).

Please note that I do not mean to give offence to anyone or to trash the Mother of my Lord.  So, please forgive me if you think I have done either of these things!
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« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2012, 07:22:19 AM »

Just add a couple things quickly about my current understanding . . .

The dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity is to the best of my limited knowledge only referred to, but never formally defined by any council.

The dogma is a verbal icon of the truth.  It is the witness of the Tradition to a profoundly holy mystery (if I am using these terms correctly).

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« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2012, 07:31:12 AM »

There are a couple of things that will give you some insight into where I am coming from.

It appears to be the case that the Protoevangelium of James (PoE) is pseudepigraphal.

For those of you that don't know how memory works it is something like this (in my current understanding).  An event happens and we "file" away our understanding of the event and sensory experience associated with that event.  When that memory comes to mind we are actually reconstructing the memory from those things, it is not like replaying a video recording of the event.  In the process of mentally reconstructing what happened what we experience by way of our memory takes the form of what we think must have happened according to our interpretation of the event.  It is at this point that we are somewhat suggestable and will remember certain details as being true of the original event when in fact they were not.  Or, another way of putting it is that details will added to fill out the narrative based on what we believe must have happened and this can be for any number of reasons.

Where this comes into play is that given the circumstances of it's documentation by PoE (as I understand them at this point), and the way memory works this looks to me as being a case where the details of Mary's remaining a virgin for the rest of her life were added (in the corporate memory of the church) to her being a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception by the power of the Holy Spirit because it is thought that it must have been the case. 

Again, I'm not saying that this is what happened, but to me it casts a shadow of doubt about this literally being the case.  Along with that I have no hang ups about it or believe that it is weird.

Perhaps what is the most pertinent point to me is if a story like this, given the actually support that it has from a purely historical point of view, were put forward by a member of another religion about the basis of their religion Christians would target that and use it against them in a discussion of that faith.  I believe very much that no religion, Christianity included, should be given a free pass from inquiry.

That is why I have no trouble seeing it as a story that is profoundly theologically true while it is the case that it may or may not have been literally true.  In fact, I have no trouble with the idea of submitting to tradition while having actual doubts (if that makes sense).

Please note that I do not mean to give offence to anyone or to trash the Mother of my Lord.  So, please forgive me if you think I have done either of these things!

In Orthodox prayers and hymns, the Virgin is never referred to liturgically as a wife, only ever as a Mother. As the woman who literally conceived and gave birth to God Incarnate, any approach by another man can only be regarded as unseemly, even an act of sacrilege, and this would include St Joseph, her betrothed. This is not at all to denigrate or belittle St Joseph, far from it.

Consider Joseph's situation: Joseph would have been familiar with what we call OT scripture. Exodus in particular is stuffed full of terms and imagery which we know are prefigurations of the Mother of God. Mary bears the Root of Jesse, the Bread of Heaven (John 6), the Word of God (John 1). The Ark contains the rod of Aaron, Manna and the Law. Mary is the human Ark of the New Covenant, a constant motif in both liturgical language, and in the iconography of all the feasts of the Virgin (the four-posted structure with a domed roof).

Now, Joseph was a good Jew, he would have been brought up with a strong sense of the sacred. He would have been raised knowing the stories in scripture of people touching the Ark of the Covenant and suffering instant death. He would have also known that only the high priest dared enter the Holy of Holies of the Temple to offer the yearly sacrifice to the presence of God who "dwelt there". Undoubtedly at some stage Joseph would have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to realise the true meaning behind these images and stories from scripture, as well as the temple rituals.

Once the meaning of these became clear to him, how, then, could Joseph possibly consider marital relations with this woman, the living Tabernacle, the new Ark, the Holy of Holies, knowing that she has given birth to the Son of God? Not that sex is bad, evil or wrong between married couples, just as eating and cooking meat are not bad, evil, or wrong in themselves, but when put into service to God in the Temple, be it sacrificial animals, or, in the case of Mary who was dedicated to the Temple as a child, they became holy, and only the high priests could participate in the sacrifice. Christ Himself is the great and eternal High Priest, the "prince who eats bread before the Lord" (Ezekiel 44). Good man that he was, Joseph would most likely have regarded himself as utterly unworthy to even be in the presence of such a treasure blessed by God, let alone consider sleeping with her.
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« Reply #10 on: December 09, 2012, 07:44:43 AM »

Some quotes from The Fathers that explain the situation in more detail and make it clear why it is even crucial for our salvation that Mary is Ever-Virgin:

St. Symeon the New Theologian, Ethical Discourses 13
There was no one, you see, who was able to save and redeem him. For this very reason, therefore, God the Word Who had made us had pity on us and came down. He became man, not by intercourse and the emission of seed – for the latter are consequences of the Fall – but of the Holy Spirit and Mary the Ever-Virgin.

St. Maximus, Ad Thalassium 21
He [Christ] appeared like the first man Adam in the manner both of his creaturely origin and his birth. The first man received his existence from God and came into being at the very origin of his existence, and was free from corruption and sin – for God did not create either of these. When, however, he sinned by breaking God’s commandment, he was condemned to birth based on sexual passion and sin. Since henceforth constrained his true natural origin within the liability to passions that had accompanied the first sin, as though placing it under a law. Accordingly, there is no human being who is sinless, since everyone is naturally subject to the law of sexual procreation that was introduced after man’s true creaturely origin in consequence of his sin.
Ad Thalassium 61
When God created human nature, He did not create sensible pleasure and pain along with it; rather, He furnished it with a certain spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffably.

St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition 4.24

But we, made confident by God the Word that was made flesh of the Virgin, answer that virginity was implanted in man’s nature from above and in the beginning. For man was formed of virgin soil. From Adam alone was Eve created. In Paradise virginity held sway. Indeed, Divine Scripture tells that both Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed. But after their transgression they knew that they were naked, and in their shame they sewed aprons for themselves. And when, after the transgression, Adam heard, dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return, when death entered into the world by reason of the transgression, then Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare seed. So that to prevent the wearing out and destruction of the race by death, marriage was devised that the race of men may be preserved through the procreation of children.
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« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2012, 08:17:07 AM »

I have been visiting an orthodox parish a few times, and I am in the same situation as the OP. It's really probably the only major thing that I don't agree with them on. I'd be honest about your thoughts with the people at the place you are visiting if it comes up or if you start trying to become Orthodox. It hasn't come up with me YET, but I have no problem being honest with them about not buying it and I may not undesrtand this properly but I don't think that assenting to this issue without a doubt is part of becoming Orthodox. Perhpaps someone here can answer taht for you. I'm sure that the virgin birth itself is, but I don't know about perpetual virginity.

To answer LBK's query, the notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary is a 'stumbling block' for a few reasons:
1. Unlike the other things you mentioned, it is not, at least explicitly found in Scriptures - so Christian groups that do not have the concept of tradition as teh Orthodox do have likely NEVER heard of this idea before.
2. It stands in opposition to most people's ideas about marriage and what it should be

It would be interesting to learn when this notion first arrived, how early this idea can be seen in the early church.

PS: Original Poster, As the quote by St John of Damascus reveals, this issue is tied up with the idea that there was no pre-fall sexuality. I'm not sure what you're thoughts on that are, but you can probably see why they are related.
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« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2012, 08:59:35 AM »

The Ever Virgin Theotokos belief is easily researched with Goggle if you wish to see what others, from the early Church Fathers to the Protestant Reformation leaders, since the Apostles said on the subject. Your argument seems to be that you can not accept it, and I presume this comes from Sola Scripture. Perhaps the issue goes deeper than the current topic.

Two of many web sites that support the belief:

http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith9174
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God

http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/evervirgin.aspx
Why is Mary Considered Ever-Virgin
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« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2012, 09:44:39 AM »

You may want to consider that John Wesley wrote in 1749 (A Letter to a Roman Catholic):
Quote
I believe that he was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.

That was two centuries after the Reformation. You may want to ask why Christians believed this for so long. It's important for us to believe what has always been held true.
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« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2012, 09:46:30 AM »

Parhelion,

As a protestant you are surely aware that the very leaders of the Protestant movements were believers in in the ever virginity of the Virgin Mary. Martin Luther writes of it , as did Zwingli, Knox, and both John and Charles Wesley. It was only in the 1900's with the Niagara Conference did American Protestants begin to espouse a youthful Joseph and began teaching that Mary and Joseph had other children. From this movement have come the mega Churches, Televangelists of today.

I have always thought it strange that those who claim sola scriptura have been so anxious to adapt revisionist history and biblical interpretations. In doing so they join the Antichrists who sought to denigrate Christ by denigrating His Mother.

It is interesting that the Jews did not teach against the virginity of Mary until after her death---why was this? Because until her death any Jewish midwife could have verified that she was, as she claimed, still a virgin. It would have been easy to condemn her by Jewish law and stone her to death as an adulterer even after Joseph's death had she not remained ever-virgin. How easy it would have been to go after the mother to get the Son, yet they did not. Why? Because as she lived an ever virgin she was an irrefutable piece of evidence of the divinity of the birth of Christ and the truth that G-d was indeed His Father --- a fact the Jews of the tie wished to deny.

Thomas
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« Reply #15 on: December 09, 2012, 09:51:34 AM »

The Ever Virgin Theotokos belief is easily researched with Goggle if you wish to see what others, from the early Church Fathers to the Protestant Reformation leaders, since the Apostles said on the subject. Your argument seems to be that you can not accept it, and I presume this comes from Sola Scripture. Perhaps the issue goes deeper than the current topic.

Two of many web sites that support the belief:

http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith9174
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God

http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/evervirgin.aspx
Why is Mary Considered Ever-Virgin


It has nothing to do with Sola Scriptura, which I don't believe in. I also believe that there are other things we can know in other ways, including continuous tradition from the Apostles who heard from Jesus. So, the question regarding any specific tradition is "Does this notion come from the apostles or was it constructed by people who had no knowledge of the matter, and based their conclusion on certain assumptions not necessarily true?"

Thanks for the links. I had read the second one. both links do a very good job at showing that we cannot say that Mary engaged in sexual relations with Joseph. That is an issue for those who explicitly make a doctrine out of Mary's sexual life - but that's not many. The issue is saying that we know she didn't. The second article of the second link seems to be predicated on the notion that anyone who questions this is trying to justify impurity. I'm not sure when that was written or to whom, but taht's simply not the case. The whole argument seems to be "These people denying the ever-virginity of Mary must be trying to justify an impure life, therefore Mary was an ever-virgin." you could probably forgive me for saying the premise is false and the conclusion does not follow even if it were true. the first link opens with a similar thing. I won't deny that some people might be made uncomfortable by a virgin life or or may feel it is impossible - but taht is not the only reason someone might find this doctrine troubling.

 It seems to be based on the notion that sex is inherently impure (which is probably teh root issue here as it also applies to the issue of pre-fall sexuality) and that to suggest Mary engaged in sexual relations with her husband (if they went forward and married) is to suggest she is impure. This seems to be underlying many of the historical writings on the topic.
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« Reply #16 on: December 09, 2012, 10:06:05 AM »

Parhelion,

As a protestant you are surely aware that the very leaders of the Protestant movements were believers in in the ever virginity of the Virgin Mary. Martin Luther writes of it , as did Zwingli, Knox, and both John and Charles Wesley. It was only in the 1900's with the Niagara Conference did American Protestants begin to espouse a youthful Joseph and began teaching that Mary and Joseph had other children. From this movement have come the mega Churches, Televangelists of today.


Don's assume too much. Presbyterians and other Reformed groups are usually aware of the Reformed Tradition, but "protestant" covers a lot more. If he's coming from the evangelical community, many times they do not see much value in learning about the Reformers or the history of the movement.
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« Reply #17 on: December 09, 2012, 11:41:52 AM »

parhelion, maybe it would help to know that most of us have trouble believing, sometimes, even in the more important things - like whether or not God even exists! For me, once I can get past that huge boulder, the other stumbling blocks are less worrisome. I just pray, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" and try not to worry too much about it.  Smiley
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« Reply #18 on: December 09, 2012, 12:47:32 PM »

Just add a couple things quickly about my current understanding . . .

The dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity is to the best of my limited knowledge only referred to, but never formally defined by any council.

The dogma is a verbal icon of the truth.  It is the witness of the Tradition to a profoundly holy mystery (if I am using these terms correctly).

Just in case you don't already know, a council's definition/affirmation is not required for something to be considered dogma in Orthodoxy.
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« Reply #19 on: December 09, 2012, 05:15:24 PM »

i am going to come at this from a TOTALLY differing direction...please forgive if i offend...but it helped me as a new convert and an RN steeped in "science"....this is, my "own" humble thought...

Our Lord took His flesh, his DNA, from his mother Mary- think about that.... he probably looked very much like her...now, knowing what we know about DNA today, I cannot imagine, in any stretch of the imagination, that the very DNA of Jesus would be walking around somewhere on this planet...so it becomes very logical, if you will, that the DNA stopped right there...Mary, any only child, birthed an Only Child...story over...

again, forgive me if i offend- and if this is in some way, blasphemous, please correct me...
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« Reply #20 on: December 10, 2012, 01:26:00 AM »

i am going to come at this from a TOTALLY differing direction...please forgive if i offend...but it helped me as a new convert and an RN steeped in "science"....this is, my "own" humble thought...

Our Lord took His flesh, his DNA, from his mother Mary- think about that.... he probably looked very much like her...now, knowing what we know about DNA today, I cannot imagine, in any stretch of the imagination, that the very DNA of Jesus would be walking around somewhere on this planet...so it becomes very logical, if you will, that the DNA stopped right there...Mary, any only child, birthed an Only Child...story over...

again, forgive me if i offend- and if this is in some way, blasphemous, please correct me...

I don't find it offensive. I don't know how DNA works, but I believe half we get from our father and half from our mother. But Christ was born "without seed", by The Power of The Holy Spirit.
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« Reply #21 on: December 10, 2012, 07:28:42 AM »

So, I curious . . . How does the following statement by the St. Basil the Great play into this? By the way, I know he accepted that Mary remained a virgin all her life and goes on to express this in the same text where this quote comes from.

"(the idea that Mary bore other children)... is not against the faith; for virginity was imposed on Mary as a necessity only up to the time that she served as an instrument for the Incarnation. On the other hand, her subsequent virginity was not essential to the mystery of the Incarnation ...."
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« Reply #22 on: December 10, 2012, 09:49:34 AM »

Quote
On the other hand, her subsequent virginity was not essential to the mystery of the Incarnation ....

On feasts dedicated to the Mother of God, one of the three OT readings appointed for Vespers is this one, Ezekiel 43:27-44:4:

"And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings; and I will accept you,” says the Lord God. Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And He said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.” Then He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord.


This reading is a prophecy of the Mother of God conceiving God Incarnate. The passage in bold speaks of her ever-virginity. Two of the multitude of liturgical titles and descriptives given to the Virgin are East Gate and Living Temple. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
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« Reply #23 on: December 10, 2012, 10:58:58 AM »

I've never understood why this is a hang-up for so many people.

But I do understand that it is. To each of us his own issues. No judgment here.

So, here's my question for you: Why do you find it so hard to think that the Mother of God never had sex or that God preserved her virginity after the birth of Christ? There's way weirder stuff in the Bible.

I've never understood that either. If one accepts that God exists, presumably He can do anything He wants. FWIW, I think the Incarnation is way weirder than the ever-virginity of the Mother of God.
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« Reply #24 on: December 10, 2012, 11:18:12 PM »

I'm sorry that I really did not answer that question before.  The truth is I don't think it is weird or impossible.  There is nothing objectionable in the content to me.  What I am after is the why I should believe it.  A lot of what drives me is that when I see Christians defending their faith they don't hesitate to criticize other religion or cults for the way they have reached their positions.  Then they turn around and execute the same kind of maneuver and expect that to be OK.  I just want to be consistent with myself by holding myself to the same standards that I would hold anyone else to.
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« Reply #25 on: December 10, 2012, 11:28:17 PM »

I'm sorry that I really did not answer that question before.  The truth is I don't think it is weird or impossible.  There is nothing objectionable in the content to me.  What I am after is the why I should believe it.  A lot of what drives me is that when I see Christians defending their faith they don't hesitate to criticize other religion or cults for the way they have reached their positions.  Then they turn around and execute the same kind of maneuver and expect that to be OK.  I just want to be consistent with myself by holding myself to the same standards that I would hold anyone else to.

So are you looking for an argument for the ever virginity of Mary?
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« Reply #26 on: December 11, 2012, 01:50:26 AM »

I'm sorry that I really did not answer that question before.  The truth is I don't think it is weird or impossible.  There is nothing objectionable in the content to me.  What I am after is the why I should believe it.  A lot of what drives me is that when I see Christians defending their faith they don't hesitate to criticize other religion or cults for the way they have reached their positions.  Then they turn around and execute the same kind of maneuver and expect that to be OK.  I just want to be consistent with myself by holding myself to the same standards that I would hold anyone else to.

I don't think there's anything in the Christian faith that requires you to attempt to parse things out in a "historical-critical" way. If you can affirm in good conscience the belief in the virginity of the Theotokos, that should be enough, IMO.

So are you looking for an argument for the ever virginity of Mary?
I don't think that's what they're asking. That is what a polemicist would ask "PROVE THIS TO ME, etc". They're looking for understanding. Give them a break, bro.
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« Reply #27 on: December 11, 2012, 10:30:16 AM »

I'm sorry that I really did not answer that question before.  The truth is I don't think it is weird or impossible.  There is nothing objectionable in the content to me.  What I am after is the why I should believe it.  A lot of what drives me is that when I see Christians defending their faith they don't hesitate to criticize other religion or cults for the way they have reached their positions.  Then they turn around and execute the same kind of maneuver and expect that to be OK.  I just want to be consistent with myself by holding myself to the same standards that I would hold anyone else to.


Here's the conclusion that I came to when considering other potential "stumbling blocks." (for me, one was the ordination of women - YMMV): the Church, the Body of Christ, has believed and taught the ever-virginity of Mary for centuries. I'm willing to accept at least the theoretical possibility that I could be wrong and that the Church knows better than I do.
I'm ok with that.
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« Reply #28 on: December 11, 2012, 10:49:36 AM »

I'm sorry that I really did not answer that question before.  The truth is I don't think it is weird or impossible.  There is nothing objectionable in the content to me.  What I am after is the why I should believe it.  A lot of what drives me is that when I see Christians defending their faith they don't hesitate to criticize other religion or cults for the way they have reached their positions.  Then they turn around and execute the same kind of maneuver and expect that to be OK.  I just want to be consistent with myself by holding myself to the same standards that I would hold anyone else to.


Here's the conclusion that I came to when considering other potential "stumbling blocks." (for me, one was the ordination of women - YMMV): the Church, the Body of Christ, has believed and taught the ever-virginity of Mary for centuries. I'm willing to accept at least the theoretical possibility that I could be wrong and that the Church knows better than I do.
I'm ok with that.

Thanks for the great post. Parhelion, as someone in the same (or similar) boat as you, remember that you will not independently and intellectually come to the all the same conclusions as the Church. There's a corporate wisdom to church dogma. Accept it as that. If you have (as I do) personal skepticism about this or that particular teaching, I don't think that should keep you out of anything. What would it mean if you had to 100% personally come to all the same conclusions about everyting without a doubt? Nobody would be there, I assure you.
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« Reply #29 on: December 11, 2012, 04:12:12 PM »

Just add a couple things quickly about my current understanding . . .

The dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity is to the best of my limited knowledge only referred to, but never formally defined by any council.

The dogma is a verbal icon of the truth.  It is the witness of the Tradition to a profoundly holy mystery (if I am using these terms correctly).


Considering the fact that the church is older than the Bible, something pseudopigraphical shouldn't bother you. Sometimes we need to suspend our disbelief and wait for God to act. Until then, and it sounds like this is the case for you, if you believe the Orthodox Church is the church founded by the Apostles, then it should be easy enough for you to set aside what you can not grasp and grasp what you can hold on to.

Can you recite the Nicene Creed in honesty?
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« Reply #30 on: December 11, 2012, 04:55:18 PM »


On feasts dedicated to the Mother of God, one of the three OT readings appointed for Vespers is this one, Ezekiel 43:27-44:4:

"And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings; and I will accept you,” says the Lord God. Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And He said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.” Then He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord.


This reading is a prophecy of the Mother of God conceiving God Incarnate. The passage in bold speaks of her ever-virginity. Two of the multitude of liturgical titles and descriptives given to the Virgin are East Gate and Living Temple. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

this passage is what nailed for me. i had actually read ezekiel 43 and 44 several times over many years, and always got stuck there, thinking what is this 'shut door' thing about? it seems to be something important.
when i first realised it was about the virgin saint mary, i just sat there in the church hall (after Bible study) with my mouth open!
this was one of the big moments along my journey from protestant Christianity to orthodox Christianity.
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« Reply #31 on: December 11, 2012, 05:19:53 PM »

So are you looking for an argument for the ever virginity of Mary?
I don't think that's what they're asking. That is what a polemicist would ask "PROVE THIS TO ME, etc". They're looking for understanding. Give them a break, bro.
I honestly wasn't trying to be hard on parhelion. I thought parhelion was maybe looking for an argument in defense of the ever virginity against someone that might ask.
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« Reply #32 on: December 17, 2012, 07:48:38 PM »

Thank you all for your replies.  There is a lot there to think about and it is much appreciated!
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« Reply #33 on: December 17, 2012, 07:53:31 PM »

It was asked if I can recite the Creed in honesty and the answer is that I can.
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« Reply #34 on: December 17, 2012, 08:42:51 PM »

Hi all,

For sometime now I have been attracted to Orthodoxy.  However, like many from a protestant background there are faith issues that I have never had to deal with.  One of those is the perpetual virginity of Mary.

I have no trouble believing in it from a mytho-poetical perspective.  I can see it being the articulation of an intuition of Mary's identity in narrative form.  It is a "true" story.  Furthermore, I would have no trouble deferring to the Church's teaching when asked about it by speaking of it in terms like "the Church has always believed . . . "

However, I cannot say that I believe it is true in the same sense that I believe in the Incarnation or the Holy Trinity or that Jesus is risen from the dead.  It may be true in that same sense.  It's just that at this point in time out of a sense of intellectual honesty I do not believe in it like I believe in other articles of the faith.

It would be my expectation that this will mean I will always be an outsider looking in because as long as this is what I believe I am automatically excluded.  But I just thought I would ask to see what hope there might be for someone like me.

Thanks!

You are not a personal witness to any of these things. You accept each of these propositions because the Church has always taught it. It's above your pay grade to pick and chose which of the things the Church has always taught as being true or untrue.

Your faith therefore lies within the Chruch itself. You beleive that the Orthodox Chruch is in fact the One Holy and Catholic Church which is guided by God and does not err in her core doctrines... The rest is commentary.
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« Reply #35 on: December 18, 2012, 12:46:38 AM »

It was asked if I can recite the Creed in honesty and the answer is that I can.

This plus a catechism class, proper confession and a good priest and you are ready to take the plunge! God grant it!+
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« Reply #36 on: December 18, 2012, 03:51:45 PM »

Parhelion,

As a protestant you are surely aware that the very leaders of the Protestant movements were believers in in the ever virginity of the Virgin Mary. Martin Luther writes of it , as did Zwingli, Knox, and both John and Charles Wesley. It was only in the 1900's with the Niagara Conference did American Protestants begin to espouse a youthful Joseph and began teaching that Mary and Joseph had other children.
Thomas

wow, i missed this earlier.
do u have any links / book titles for researching this further?
i have a lot of protestant friends (mostly quite academic and several Bible college graduates) and it would be great to know how to answer them better.
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« Reply #37 on: December 18, 2012, 04:12:39 PM »

Quote
It would be my expectation that this will mean I will always be an outsider looking in because as long as this is what I believe I am automatically excluded.  But I just thought I would ask to see what hope there might be for someone like me.

Some priests wouldn't give you holy communion because of that.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." It should be a problem, because when you can in other things crucify your mind, why not  also in this case?
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« Reply #38 on: December 18, 2012, 10:45:56 PM »

...this looks to me as being a case where the details of Mary's remaining a virgin for the rest of her life were added (in the corporate memory of the church) to her being a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception by the power of the Holy Spirit because it is thought that it must have been the case.  

Again, I'm not saying that this is what happened, but to me it casts a shadow of doubt about this literally being the case.  Along with that I have no hang ups about it or believe that it is weird.

Perhaps what is the most pertinent point to me is if a story like this, given the actually support that it has from a purely historical point of view, were put forward by a member of another religion about the basis of their religion Christians would target that and use it against them in a discussion of that faith.

While there is certainly no historical proof of something like the perpetual virginity of Mary (or for many events depicted in the OT and NT for that matter), from a purely historical-critical point of view major contemporary scholars, regarding which I offer Richard Bauckham as an example, do regard the Epiphanian view of the relatives of Jesus favored by Eastern Orthodoxy, which is closely related to the perpetual virginity of Mary, as having the strongest historical warrant. That is primarily because it is the earlier and for a time only (and multiply) attested of the three alternate positions (see below; most contemporary scholars, however, do favor the later attested Helvidian view. Still, it is anything but academic suicide to suppose the warrant is with Epiphanius).

From Richard J. Bauckham, R. J. Bauckham, “Relatives of Jesus,” in Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (1997), pp. 1004-1006.

Quote from: Richard J. Bauckham

2. The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus.
Since the terms brother and sister could be used of relatives other than full blood siblings, the precise relationship of these persons to Jesus has been debated. The issue has been closely connected with the traditional belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, which can be found already in early second-century Christian literature. The three major views have come to be known by the names of their fourth-century proponents: Helvidius, Epiphanius and Jerome. The Helvidian view, which most modern exegetes hold, is that the brothers and sisters were children of Joseph and Mary, born after Jesus. The Epiphanian view, which is the traditional view in the Eastern Orthodox churches, is that they were children of Joseph by a marriage prior to his marriage to Mary (and therefore Jesus’ adoptive siblings). The Hieronymian view, which through Jerome’s influence became the traditional Roman Catholic view, is that they were first cousins of Jesus (usually considered children of Clopas). The last view depends largely on identifying Jesus’ brothers with other persons of the same names (Mt 10:3; 27:56; Mk 3:18; 15:40, 47; 16:1; Lk 6:15–16; 24:10; Hegesippus, quoted in Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.22.4) but is rendered improbable by the fact that the brothers of Jesus are invariably called “the brothers of the Lord” in early Christian literature. If they were cousins of Jesus we should expect them to be occasionally so described, as Hegesippus describes Simeon son of Clopas (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.22.4).

It is much more difficult to decide between the Helvidian and the Epiphanian views. Nothing in the NT provides decisive evidence either way, while the only works from an early period that are unambiguous about the relationship take the Epiphanian view. These are the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Peter and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, probably all from second-century Syria. In the Protevangelium of James the perpetual virginity of Mary is also implied, and so a belief that it was inappropriate for the mother of Jesus also to bear other children may have produced the Epiphanian view of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Alternatively it may be that these prominent early Christian leaders were known from tradition to be children of Joseph but not of Mary and that belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary was possible only for this reason...

BIBLIOGRAPHY. R. J. Bauckham, “The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus: An Epiphanian Response to John P. Meier,” CBQ 56 (1994) 686–700; idem, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990); idem, “Mary of Clopas (John 19:25)” in Women in the Biblical Tradition, ed. G. J. Brooke (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1992) 231–55; W. A. Bienert, “The Relatives of Jesus” in New Testament Apocrypha, ed., W. Schneemelcher and R. McL. Wilson, (2 vols.; rev. ed.; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991) 1: 470–91.
The last sentence suggests that while the mythological development of PV your post leans toward is for the contemporary historian a theoretical option it is hardly a self-evident conclusion, or necessarily -depending on how one assesses the broader picture- even the most credible.

The full article is posted on my blog, katachriston.

[to avoid possible misunderstandings, readers please note I am not suggesting the ever-shifting sands of the contemporary historical critical sieve as the final arbiter for such matters]

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