Understanding The Virgin Mary - Part 3

December 27, 2005 Length: 52:26

This is the final program of the three-part series on Mary from our audio archives of our live program on KPXQ Phoenix. In this program we discuss several misconceptions about Mary and her place within the Christian Church through the ages.

In series Encountering Mary





Program Notes

- December 19 & 26, 2004
The Orthodox Church's Understanding of the Virgin Mary, Parts 2 and 3

I)    Typology and the Foreshadowing of the Relationship of Mary to Christ and Christians

A)    The Fathers of the Church held Mary to be “blessed” (Luke 1:48) and that “God had done great things for her” (v.49) and that God had “exalted the humble and meek” (v.52). Mary, in saying to God “Behold the bondslave of the Lord, be it done to me according to Your will”, is an example to all Christians to humble ourselves before the will of God and that “God resists the proud but gives abundant grace to the humble” (James 4:6)

B)    The early Church Fathers recognized the reality that it was through Mary, in her submissive humility before the will of God, that our salvation was manifested in the flesh of Christ, and that flesh was taken from her alone and no one else. 

C)    It is often stated that “Mary is never mentioned in the Bible by Paul” and she is never exalted in the Scriptures.  However, both Luke and Matthew spend almost 10% of their Gospels telling about the relationship of Mary to God and Christ.  And MOST of the things told about in the Gospels are never mentioned by St. Paul in his epistles, nor are there any quotes from Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels repeated in Paul’s epistles except the Eucharistic fomulas. Does this mean Paul never taught what Christ taught?  Does it mean Paul was totally ignorant of the teachings and ministry of Christ? Of course not. So, it would be a mistake to base a doctrine or even a view of the relationship of Mary to Jesus based on silence in St. Paul’s epistles. 

1)     The Orthodox view of Mary is solidly biblical and like any other “commentary” on scripture that goes beyond the words of the Bible itself, tells the believer about the relationship of Mary to our salvation in Christ.  Just as modern Biblical expositors have looked at the Old Testament and understand that there were types and shadows of Christ, the early Church Fathers also say the same Christological types but also saw a typology that included the Mother of our Savior.

D)    Ultimately the Orthodox Church sees the “exaltation of Mary” as an exaltation of Christ.

1)     Mary in Orthodox iconography is always portrayed with Christ.  Mary’s place in salvation history is due to Christ and not herself.  Apart from bearing Christ, she is no different from any other believer.  To deny the maternal “Mother/Son” relationship of Mary and Jesus is to deny His humanity.  To deny Jesus’ love for His Mother and her’s for Him as she wept at the foot of His cross is to deny their human and divine love for one another.

2)     It is with a deep reverence for the mystery of the Incarnation, God become flesh in Mary, that the early Fathers approached Mary.  These are some of the excerpts from Orthodox hymnography that teaches the Christian about who Mary is, her role in our salvation, her relationship to Christ and her purity, humility and perpetual virginity.

II)       OT Prophecy and Mary in the Church Fathers

A)    The Church Fathers understood Ezekiel 44:2 to be a typology of the perpetual virginity of Mary:   “And the LORD said to me, "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut."  The gate of the womb of Mary (the God bearer) was left sacred.  For another to enter it would not be proper.

1)     Psalm 67: "the mountain of God is a fertile mountain, a bedewed mountain, a fertile mountain; why gaze you with envy, O ye bedewed mountains? for this is the mountain in which God hath deigned to dwell."  Mary, according to the exposition of the Church, is the"mountain fertile, and bedewed by the Spirit” a prophecy of the virgin birth.

2)     Christ’s Mother would come from the clan of David: "a staff shall spring forth from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall come up from his root; and the Spirit of God will rest upon him." (Isaiah. 11, 1, 2; 53, 2). The Church understands the Virgin Mary to be that "staff."  "A staff did Isaiah call Thee: from it did a beauteous blossom -- Christ [our] God come forth unto us."  The expression: "the root of Jesse," coming from the Hebrew for: a stump, a log, gives rise to the thought of the humbled state of David's descendants at the time when that staff -- the Virgin Mary-- was springing forth from it.  St. Paul relates this prophecy to Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:12)

3)     (Song of Solomon) "The garden is enclosed -- O My sister, My bride, -- the fountainhead is sealed, -- the fountainhead of the garden and the well-spring of living water."  "Thy garden is enclosed, O Virgin Mother, and Thy fountainhead is sealed by the Spirit of God, thus did the most-wise one sing in his songs." The word "sealed," according to St. John of Damascus, is a type of the ever-virginity of the Mother of God.  And the Church teaches: "The choir of prophets did truly call Thee the sealed fountainhead and the locked door, describing for us the manifest signs of Thy virginity, O All-Hymned One, which Thou didst preserve even after having given birth."

B)    Other Examples of Typology from The Fathers

1)     The "Temple of God"  She is the Holy of Holies in which God dwelt, and where God met Israel for their salvation. (Ephraim the Syrian, Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen)

2)     The "Rod of Jesse" from whom blossomed Christ (Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Jerome, Ephraim the Syrian)

3)     The "East Gate" (Jerome)

4)     The "King's Palace" (the place which God dwelt) (Ephraim the Syrian, Ambrose)

5)     "More Spacious than the Heavens", which is also the name of the icon of Mary over the altar in an Orthodox Church. This means her womb contained the uncontainable God. (Athanasius of Alexandria, Ephraim the Syrian, Epiphanius of Salamis, Proclus of Constantinople)

6)     The "Imperishable Wood" from which the Ark of the Covenant was fashioned (Hippolytus)

7)     The "Source of the Bread of Life" (Ephraim the Syrian, Peter Chrysologus)

8)     The "Burning Bush that is Not Consumed" a reference to the burning bush of Moses and Hebrews 10, our God is a consuming fire. Mary contained God and was not consumed by the fire of His holiness. (Gregory of Nyssa)

9)     The Untilled Paradise, the Tree of Life:  like the Tree of Life in Paradise which grew with no man tilling the soil or planting the seed, Mary bore Christ with no man, and the seed planted by God.  She was the tree which bore the Fruit which we eat to gain eternal life, an antitype of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden which bore the fruit of eternal life.  (Luke 1:42 “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!”)

III)     Examples from Hymnography

A)    The hymnography must be read within the context of the ENTIRE spiritual life of the Church.  These liturgical texts are a very small part of the entire liturgical year’s prayers and hymns, so the reader must not react to them as though they are the entirety of the Church’s spirituality, teachings and understanding of salvation in Christ.  So, taken alone and without the benefit of the context of the entire Church’s liturgical texts and teachings of the Church Fathers, one could conclude that the Orthodox ascribe to Mary things that are typically ascribed to Christ alone in the Protestant Traditions.  One must be aware that the Church sees Mary as the God-bearer (Theotokos) and apart from her bearing God we would have no salvation in Christ.  Thus the Church can properly say things like “You through whom creation is renewed” because the Church understands this BOTH Christologically and Incarnationally.  Mary herself does not renew creation, but it is by her bearing Christ that creation is able to be renewed by God Incarnate.

B)    One may object that it is “confusing the issues” by using such language.  However, the issue is not “confusing language” because Orthodox Christians have understood this properly for 2000 years.  The issue is us learning the language that billions of Christians have spoken for almost 2000 years and learning to understand it.  This is how the Church has obeyed the command “Every generation shall call me blessed”.  The Church properly blesses Mary for what she has done, who she is, and what she accomplished for all humanity for bearing Christ.  We do not worship her, but give her honor as the Archangel Gabriel did when he greeted her.  Just as modern Christians praise contemporary “heroes of the faith” and tell of their faithfulness and spiritual accomplishments, the Church does the same for Mary, the Mother of our Savior.

C)    Examples of Orthodox Hymnography to Mary

1)     If one reads the words of they hymns with a proper understanding of the relationship of Mary to Christ and a proper Christological doctrine, and with the understandings of the early Church Fathers who read the Old Testament typologically regarding Mary, these hymns express a wealth of biblical and theological truth.

2)     (From the Paraklesis Hymns)
Following the form of the angelic greeting of Gabriel, the hymns greet Mary thus:

Hail, you, through whom Joy will shine forth!
Hail, you, through whom the curse will disappear!
Hail, restoration of the fallen Adam!
Hail, redemption of the tears of Eve!
Hail, peak above the reach of human thought!
Hail, depth even beyond the sight of angels!
Hail, you who have become a royal throne!
Hail, you who carry Him Who carries all!
Hail, star who manifest the Sun!
Hail, womb of the divine Incarnation!
Hail, you through whom creation is renewed!
Hail, you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe!
Hail, bride and maiden all-pure!

Hail, heavenly ladder, by whom God came down!
Hail, bridge leading earthly ones to heaven!
Hail, wonder, ever-thrilling to the angels!
Hail, wound, ever-hurting to the demons!
Hail, you who gave birth to Light ineffably!
Hail, you who told no one how it was done!
Hail, you who surpass the wisdom of the wise!

Hail, tendril whose Bud shall not wilt!
Hail, soil whose Fruit shall not perish!
Hail, tender of mankind's loving Tender!
Hail, gardener of the Gardener of Life!
Hail, earth who yielded abundant mercies!
Hail, table full-laden with appeasement!
Hail, for you have greened anew the pastures of delight!
Hail, for you have prepared a haven for the souls!
Hail, acceptable incense of prayer!
Hail, you favor of God to mortal men!

3)     To thee the Champion leader do we offer songs of victory, O Theotokos who has delivered us from terror….

4)     Champion leader (I Sam. 17:4, 23) literally,  "the man between the two," denoting the position of Goliath and David between the two camps. Single combats of this kind at the head of armies were common in ancient times.  The one put forth on behalf of the people was called the “Champion Leader”. 

5)     An Archangel was sent from Heaven to address the Mother of God:  "Hail!"  Beholding You taking human flesh, Lord, he was in fear and stood in front of her crying with bodiless voice:  "Hail, the one through whom joy will radiate.  Hail, the one through whom the curse will come to an end.  Hail, height unapproachable with human thoughts.  Hail, depth unfathomable to angelic eyes. Hail, you who are the throne of God.  Hail, you who bear the Bearer of all.  Hail, star proceeding from the sun.  Hail, you through whom creation is renewed. "

Seeking to understand a fathomless reason, the virgin cried to God's messenger:  "Tell me:  How can a Son be born from a chaste womb?"  He answered her with awe, saying, "Hail, treasure house of an entirely world-transcending Mystery.  Hail, the faith of willing and complete submission.  Hail, the beginning of Christ's stupendous miracles.  Hail, the font of His all-wise commandments.  Hail, the heavenly ladder by which God descends.  Hail, the celestial bridge leading the earth's dwellers heavenward.  Hail, the miracle with praises drawn from Angels.   Hail, conquest with wailings rent from demons.  Hail, you who gave birth to Light ineffably brought to fruition.  Hail, you who disclosed not how or in what way.  Hail, you who exceed the wisdom of the sages.  Hail, you who enlighten the understanding of the faithful."

Hail, ever-virgin bride!

Having received God in her womb, the virgin hastened to Elizabeth, whose child soon recognized her greeting, rejoiced, and with leaps of joy as with songs, cried to the Mother of God:  "Hail, you who are the stem of the unfading Flower.  Hail, who received the Fruit of immortality.  Hail, you who bear the One Who cherishes the human race.  Hail, you who are to give birth to the Planter of our Life.  Hail, the field that grows the fruits of an unstinted bounty.  Hail, the table that bears the abundance of purification. Hail, for you blossom forth with heavenly Food in plenty.  Hail, for you prepare a Haven for souls.  Hail, the pleasing incense of prayer and supplication.  Hail, the glorious cleansing of the sin-soiled world.  Hail, our God's benevolence to the world of mortals. Hail, because mortals may now dare to aspire to God."

Hail, ever-virgin bride!

The shepherds heard Angels singing praises of Christ's coming in the flesh.  They hastened to Him as to the Shepherd and saw Him as an unspotted Lamb brought forth from Mary's womb; and praising her they said, "Hail, Mother of the Lamb and the Shepherd.  Hail, pasture of rational sheep. Hail, torture of invisible enemies.  Hail, opener of heavenly gates. Hail, because the heavenly beings rejoice together with the earth-born.  Hail, because the earth's children exult with the immortals.  Hail, the never silent voice of the Apostles.  Hail, the unconquered courage of the blessëd Martyrs.  Hail, the firm assertion of faith.  Hail, the shining knowledge of Grace.  Hail, you by whom Hades was stripped bare.  Hail, you through whom we are clothed with glory."  

Hail, the tree bearing sweet Fruit, by Which the faithful are nourished.  Hail, the tree spreading shade by which many are sheltered.  Hail, you who bear in yourself the Deliverer of the imprisoned.  Hail, you who bring forth the Loadstone of wandering.  Hail, the propitiation of  the most-righteous Judge.  Hail, the remission of sins of many a sin-stained soul.  Hail, the mantle of boldness flung about the naked.  Hail, the love all-powerful, vanquishing all desires. " 

Hail ever-virgin Bride!

Hail the most-holy chariot of the One Who rests on the Cherubim. Hail, the most glorious dwelling of the One Who sits on the Seraphim.  Hail, you who united the two opposing modes of being!  Hail, you who joined in yourself the maiden with the mother.  Hail, you through whom the bonds of sin were loosened forever.  Hail, you through whom the gates of Paradise were opened.  Hail, the key of Christ's Reign.


A)    "I shall put enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman and the serpent shall bruise his heel, but the seed of the woman shall crush his head." (Genesis 3:15)

B)    Christians have recognized (all the way back to the first century) that the woman and her seed mentioned in Genesis 3:15 do not simply stand for Eve and one of her righteous sons (either Abel or Seth). They prophetically foreshadow Mary and Jesus. IF THESE PASSAGES PROPHECY MARY’S ROLE IN THE BIRTH OF CHRIST WHY CAN’T OTHERS?  The ultimate problem with “sola scriptura” is we end up only seeing what WE see, maybe not everything that is really there.

V)    QUEEN OF HEAVEN: Is this a title of a pagan deity or Mary?

A)    In Jeremiah we see the term used to refer to a pagan deity.  Based on these passages some argue that Mary, who is also called the Queen of Heaven, is a replacement for the pagan goddess and to worship her is to fall into idolatry and be destroyed as Israel was:

1)     "Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger." [Jeremiah 7:17-18]

2)     "As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men?"  [Jeremiah 44:16-17)

3)     "Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her: ye will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows." [Jeremiah 44:25]  God is telling Israel why He is about to destroy them as a nation He is saying that this worship of the Queen of Heaven is "provoking" Him to wrath.

The fact that a particular title is idolatrously used in one context doesn’t preclude it being non-idolatrously used in another. The fact that the Devil (or the wicked King of Babylon, depending on your interpretation) is called “the morning star” in Isaiah 14:12 does not mean we cannot use the same title to refer to Jesus, as in 2 Peter 1:19 and Revelation 22:16.

Pagan myths of dying and rising gods abound: Dionysius, Osiris, Adonis, etc. Parallels can certainly be drawn between them and the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and Redemption. But such parallels prove nothing — certainly they do not prove that Jesus Christ is just one more dying god myth.

B)    Some may object:  While Mary’s Queenship may have some biblical basis, especially that of the Queen Mother, Orthodox teaching and practice goes well beyond anything we find in the New Testament.

The premise of that objection is that something which goes beyond (but does not contradict) the New Testament must be rejected by Christians. But this premise is itself “beyond” the New Testament’s teaching.  There are many things that are not spelled out in the New Testament that Christians do and believe, such as the doctrine of the Trinity. The term “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible, but the doctrine of the Trinity is. Similarly, nowhere in the Bible is Mary directly called “Queen of Heaven,” though the doctrine of her Queenship is there.

C)    The Psalms refer to the Old Testament kings (and even their queen mothers), and the language of royalty as found in the Old and New Testaments would be offensive to those raised in a democracy. The monarchy of Israel was a divinely established office and the language used to address royalty was divinely inspired. There is nothing wrong with Christians using similar language about Christians.  St. Peter calls us a “royal priesthood”,  we are “kings”.  Thus Mary, who is Mother of the King and herself in the royal line of David can properly and scripturally be called the Queen Mother and since she is in heaven, be called the Queen of Heaven.

D)    Psalm 45, which when speaking of the Kingdom of God also speaks of its Queen.

[6]  Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. [7] Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. [8] All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad. [9] Kings' daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir. [10] Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; [11] So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him. (Psalm 45:6-11, KJV)

VI)   What the Church Teaches

A)    First, let us be clear about what the Church means by the Queenship of Mary. The Queenship of Mary refers to Mary’s royal dignity as Mother of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.  It is a simple, straightforward relationship, found in the pages of scripture. That title takes nothing away from Jesus’ Kingship, but rather is a consequence of it.

1)     Psalm 45:9 refers to the Queen Mother standing at the king’s right hand, arrayed in gold. Hebrews 1:8-9 applies this psalm to Jesus as Messianic King. By extension, Psalm 45:9 would then apply prophetically to the Messianic King’s Mother, Mary.

2)     New Testament. These texts provide the Old Testament background to Mary’s role in the New Testament. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son whom she would name Jesus. Then Gabriel declared, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33; RNAB). Since Jesus is certainly the Messianic King, it follows that Mary’s role is that of the Queen Mother of the Messianic King. This explains why St. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, would say to her younger cousin, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43; RNAB).

3)     This is the language of the royal court, with the subordinate (Elizabeth) addressing a royal superior (Mary). Elizabeth was honored, not merely by the presence, in utero, of the child Jesus, but also by Mary herself. Elizabeth said, “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth was honored by the presence of Mary because she is the Queen Mother of the Messianic King, Elizabeth’s Lord.