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Sinlessness of the Mother of God


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#1 Andrew Kisliakov

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 08:15 AM

Dear all,

Having read the forum archives, I know that this topic has been raised before, but I would like to have a couple of questions clarified.

From earlier reading, my impression has been that there has never been a single viewpoint among the Fathers regarding the sinlessness of the Mother of God. I believe that the following viewpoints have been expressed:

- The Mother of God never sinned
- The Mother of God may have sinned prior to the Annunciation, but not after
- The Mother of God sinned both before, and after the Annunciation
- The Mother of God sinned, but never wilfully

I would like to confirm that all the above viewpoints do appear in the writings of the Fathers and, if possible, to get some references to where specifically they occur.

Andrew

#2 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 01:13 PM

Andrew Kisliakov wrote:

Dear all,

Having read the forum archives, I know that this topic has been raised before, but I would like to have a couple of questions clarified.

From earlier reading, my impression has been that there has never been a single viewpoint among the Fathers regarding the sinlessness of the Mother of God. I believe that the following viewpoints have been expressed:

- The Mother of God never sinned
- The Mother of God may have sinned prior to the Annunciation, but not after
- The Mother of God sinned both before, and after the Annunciation
- The Mother of God sinned, but never wilfully

I would like to confirm that all the above viewpoints do appear in the writings of the Fathers and, if possible, to get some references to where specifically they occur.

Andrew


I'm far from having read all of the Patristic witness about this. But from what I have read my impression is that the Patristic consensus is that "The Mother of God never sinned."

By this is meant, according to my understanding, that by her own free will however the Mother of God did not sin.

ie the sinlessness of the Mother of God is not due to the fact of the special relationship or union with her Son as if this compels her not to sin. Rather the special degree of relationship with her Son and the fact that He chose to abide in her womb, is an aspect of her free will not to sin.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#3 Nina

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 02:41 PM

Dear Andrew Kisliakov,

In addition to the words of Father Raphael, please read below quotes from the book "The Feasts of the Lord" by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlahos.

"The archangel Gabriel called the Panagia "full of grace". He said to her "Rejoice, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women" (Lk. 1, 28-29). The Panagia is called "full of grace" and is characterized as "blessed" because God is with her.

According to St. Gregory Palamas, as well as other holy Fathers, the Panagia had already been full of grace before the day of the annunciation. Living in the holy of holies of the Temple, she had reached the holy of holies of the spiritual life, which is deification. If the forecourt of the Temple was intended for the proselytes and if the Temple proper was for the priests, the holy of holies was intended for the high priest. The Panagia entered there, an indication that she had attained deification. It is well known that in the Christian era the narthex was intended for the catechumens and the impure, the Temple proper for the illuminated, the members of the Church, and the holy of holies for those who had attained deification.

Thus the Panagia was already deified before she received the visit of the archangel. She had used a special method for knowing God and communing with Him, as St. Gregory Palamas interprets in a wonderful and inspired way: it is hesychia, the hesychastic way. The Panagia understood that one can reach God not by logic, sensation, imagination and human fame, but through one's 'nous', which is sometimes called the eye of the heart. Thus she silenced all the powers of her soul which derive from sensation, and through noetic prayer she activated her nous. In this way she reached illumination and deification, and she therefore was granted to become the Mother of Christ, to give her flesh to Christ. She had not only virtues but the deifying grace of God.

The Panagia had the fullness of the grace of God, in comparison with other people. To be sure, Christ, as the Word of God, has the whole fullness of the graces, the Panagia received the fullness of grace from the fullness of the graces of her Son. She is lower than Christ because Christ has grace by nature, while the Panagia has it by participation, but she is higher than other people.

The Panagia had the fullness of grace from the fullness of the graces of her Son before, during and after conception. Before the conception the fullness of grace was perfect, during the conception it was more perfect, and after the conception it was most perfect (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite). In this way the Panagia was virgin in body and virgin in soul. And this bodily virginity of hers is higher and more perfect than the virginity of the souls of the saints, which is attained by the energy of the Holy Spirit." (pp. 25-26)

"The Panagia was born with the ancestral sin, she had all the consequences of decay and death in her body. When she entered the holy of holies she had attained deification. But this deification was not enough to rid her of those consequences which meant corruption and death, just because the divine nature had not been united with the human nature in the person of the Word. Thus it was at the moment when by the power of the Holy Spirit the divine nature was united with the human nature in the womb of the Panagia that the Panagia first tasted her release from the so-called ancestral sin and its consequences. Furthermore, at that moment there took place what Adam and Eve had failed to do in their free personal struggle. At that moment of the Annunciation the Panagia reached a higher state than that in which Adam and Eve were before the fall. She was granted to taste the final goal of creation, as we shall see in other analyses.

Therefore for the Panagia no Pentecost, no Baptism was needed. What the Apostles experienced on the day of the Pentecost, when they became members of the Body of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and what happens to all of us in the sacrament of Baptism, happened to the Panagia on the day of the Annunciation. It was then that she was released from the ancestral sin, not that she had any guilt, but she was deified in soul and body by reason of her union with Christ.

This is the background for interpreting the words of St. John of Damaskos that on the day of the Annunciation the Panagia received the Holy Spirit, which purified her and gave her the power at the same time both to receive the divinity of the Word and to give birth. That is to say, the Panagia received from the Holy Spirit both purifying grace and the power to receive and give birth to the Word of God as man." (pp. 27-28)

#4 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 09:18 PM

When I first saw this new thread on the list today, not wearing my glasses at the time, I read 'The silliness of the Mother of God'.

I'm glad to see that was a blurred vision. :)

INXC, Matthew

#5 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 11:04 PM

I am pretty sure that the idea that the Theotokos did not sin is pretty universal amongst the Fathers in the Orthodox Church. I would be very curious to know who amongst them might have thought otherwise.

#6 Paul Cowan

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 03:24 AM

I am pretty sure that the idea that the Theotokos was not silly is pretty universal amongst the Fathers in the Orthodox Church. I would be very curious to know who amongst them might have thought otherwise.

Thanks Herman for letting me steal your post.
Paul

#7 Olga

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 04:59 AM

When I first saw this new thread on the list today, not wearing my glasses at the time, I read 'The silliness of the Mother of God'.

I'm glad to see that was a blurred vision. :)

INXC, Matthew


As a humorous aside, I have a CD of Russian church singing which has English translations of the various hymns included in the sleeve notes. The translations are, of course, well-intentioned, but are, at times, off the mark, such as this one, for the Resurrectional Theotokion Bogoroditse Dyevo, raduisya: "Hail, Virgin Mother of God, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Messed are you among women ...." :o

#8 Peter Farrington

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 07:48 AM

I note that the Cath. Enc. says...

In regard to the sinlessness of Mary the older Fathers are very cautious: some of them even seem to have been in error on this matter.


Origen, although he ascribed to Mary high spiritual prerogatives, thought that, at the time of Christ's passion, the sword of disbelief pierced Mary's soul; that she was struck by the poniard of doubt; and that for her sins also Christ died (Origen, "In Luc. hom. xvii").

In the same manner St. Basil writes in the fourth century: he sees in the sword, of which Simeon speaks, the doubt which pierced Mary's soul (Epistle 259).

St. Chrysostom accuses her of ambition, and of putting herself forward unduly when she sought to speak to Jesus at Capharnaum (Matthew 12:46; Chrysostom, Hom. xliv; cf. also "In Matt.", hom. 4).


So there may well be value in working through the Fathers to get a rounded and Patristic approach.

Peter

#9 Andrew Kisliakov

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 10:57 AM

Dear all,

Thanks for the responses and the humour :)

From Peter's reference, we see that at least three of the Fathers (is Origen considered in the church as a Father?) did not hold to the sinlessness of the Mother of God.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia article quoted by Peter does go on to present quotations by certain Fathers which they use to support the belief that she was sinless. Some of the examples are somewhat strained, and I wouldn't use them as proof that a particular Father held the doctrine. To me, the more convincing ones are those of Sts. Ambrose, Theodotus of Ancyra, Augustine, Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Sarug.

I would be grateful if anyone can provide the exact quotes from these or other Fathers who did support the position of her sinlessness.

Andrew

#10 Michael Stickles

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 10:58 AM

Tertullian also seems to ascribe unbelief to her, in rather severe terms, in his work On the Flesh of Christ, where he comments on Matthew 12:46-50 (relevant excerpts):



... whilst there is at the same time a want of evidence of His mother’s adherence to Him, although the Marthas and the other Marys were in constant attendance on Him. In this very passage indeed, their unbelief is evident. Jesus was teaching the way of life, preaching the kingdom of God and actively engaged in healing infirmities of body and soul; but all the while, whilst strangers were intent on Him, His very nearest relatives were absent. By and by they turn up, and keep outside; but they do not go in, because, forsooth, they set small store on that which was doing within; nor do they even wait, as if they had something which they could contribute more necessary than that which He was so earnestly doing; but they prefer to interrupt Him, and wish to call Him away from His great work.




When denying one’s parents in indignation, one does not deny their existence, but censures their faults. Besides, He gave others the preference; and since He shows their title to this favor — even because they listened to the word (of God) — He points out in what sense He denied His mother and His brethren. For in whatever sense He adopted as His own those who adhered to Him, in that did He deny as His those who kept aloof from Him.

But there is also another view of the case: in the abjured mother there is a figure of the synagogue, as well as of the Jews in the unbelieving brethren. In their person Israel remained outside, whilst the new disciples who kept close to Christ within, hearing and believing, represented the Church, which He called mother in a preferable sense and a worthier brotherhood, with the repudiation of the carnal relationship.



I'm pretty sure he wrote this before he began championing Montanism (which he calls a "raising schism" in a work of about the same time as this one).

#11 Peter Farrington

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 01:45 PM

I think that Ephrem and Jacob of Serug are writing poetry rather than systematic theology, which I think the Cath. Enc. accepts.

I will dig out a book called The Blessed Virgin Mary in the First Six Centuries which has most references to the Theotokos. Not all of the arguments seem reasonable to me as it is a Roman Catholic volume published in the 19th century, but the references are comprehensive.

As I have been thinking about this over the last hours I think that I do not want to say that the Virgin sinned, in the sense that it is not my place to judge another, least of all her. But I do believe that our Faith requires us to resist any tendency to set her apart from us and our own humanity.

She must be fully and completely human as we are to share our own humanity completely and fully with Her Son and Her Saviour.

Whether she sinned at any time is not my business. There is plenty enough positively to say about her and her holiness and obedience. It is the suggestion that she was not human as we are which I find theologically problematic and indeed difficult to reconcile with the wider teachings of the Orthodox Faith.

Origen may perhaps not be considered a Father, but he is an important witness, and indeed only some of his ideas have been properly considered and condemned.

Peter

#12 Michael Stickles

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 02:00 PM

Andrew,

I found the following quotes in various places online.

First, St. Ambrose:

What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, ...
... that the very appearance of her outward being might be the image of her soul, the representation of what is approved. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the very threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within. (From Concerning Virgins, Book II, Chapter II)


"Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin" (Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30 [A.D. 387]).


St. Ephraim the Syrian:

"You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?" (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A.D. 361])."


"As lightning illuminates what is hidden, so also Christ purifies what is hidden in the nature of things. He purified the Virgin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is manifest purity in all its power. He purified the Virgin, having prepared Her by the Holy Spirit, and then the womb, having become pure, conceived Him. He purified the Virgin while She was inviolate; wherefore, having been born, He left Her virgin. I do not say that Mary became immortal, but that being illuminated by grace, She was not disturbed by sinful desires" (Homily Against Heretics, 41).


I couldn't find a direct quote from Theodotus of Ancyra, but found the following snippet on TheologyWeb:

Theodotus of Ancyra terms her a virgin innocent, without spot, void of culpability, holy in body and in soul, a lily springing among thorns, untaught the ills of Eve nor was there any communion in her of light with darkness, and, when not yet born, she was consecrated to God ("Orat. in S. Dei Genitr.").


I also found a few claims that all of the Fathers you mentioned (as well as others) mention in other places in their writings that Mary was a sinner, but none of the pages I found which claimed this gave specific references. Some of them raised the idea that some Fathers saw Mary as sinless for part of her life (i.e., while carrying Christ), but not her whole life. It may also be possible that some or all of the "Mary as sinner" passages were actually referring to a different Mary (Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Martha, etc.). However, without references I can't be certain either way.

The site earlychurchfathers.org has a page which lists some references for early writings referring to Mary as sinless. However, don't trust any reference as really claiming that without checking it first. They include the same work from Tertullian which I quoted before, and even their specific reference taken alone does not seem to support Mary as sinless (the St. Ambrose and St. Ephraim references do seem to support that; I didn't check the others).

#13 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 02:15 PM

Peter Farrington wrote:



So there may well be value in working through the Fathers to get a rounded and Patristic approach.



For us at least, the Fathers need to be always seen & interpreted from within the larger framework of the Church.

Thus St John Maximovitch writing in his The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God writes:

But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: "There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify Her beyond what is proper" (Panarion, "Against the Collyridians"). This Holy Father accuses those who give Her an almost divine worship: "Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord" (same source). "Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to Her father Joachim in the desert, 'Thy wife hath conceived,' still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man" (same source). "One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites").


After striking this balance St John then writes:

The Virgin Mary, having given Herself entirely up to God, even though She repulsed from Herself every impulse to sin, still felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others and ardently desired the coming of the Saviour.


In other words the Mother of God is not sinless in the same sense her Son is, ie by nature, but rather by free will and resistance to that which is sinful. That is why there is tremendous wisdom in St John's words that the Theotokos, "still felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others" That is, she understood the effect of sin more clearly than we but without submitting to this sin. Understanding this and suffering from it as a Mother she then, "ardently desired the coming of the Saviour."

We also should not overlook the insights of St Gregory Palamas who sees the Mother of God as the first hesychast. The point here is not just that she is the first practitioner of a certain kind of inner payer, later treasured and taught by the Church. The point is to describe that when we refer to the sinlessness of the Mother of God we mean that by her way of life she sums up the very purpose of God for man. And the Fathers, such as St Irenaeus have written of this from the beginning.

In effect what the Church is saying then is that the question of the sinlessness of the Mother of God refers to man's ultimate purpose. Truly if we use such words to describe the Mother of God we have to be careful about what we mean. But if we entirely reject them we risk overlooking the fundamental insight about man's salvation which the Fathers base their words on.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#14 Andrew Kisliakov

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 02:33 PM

Peter,

Personally, I generally agree with the points that you have made. I prefer to regard the Mother of God as sinless, but am happy to acknowledge that there are differences of opinion and leave it at that. Unfortunately, as I am involved in a discussion on another Orthodox forum where some are categorically asserting that she did sin, I feel obliged to find out more about what we know the Fathers to have written on the subject.

I did see a reference to the book "The Blessed Virgin Mary in the First Six Centuries", which looked interesting, and hope to find it in a library when I have the chance. However, if you have access to a copy and would like to post any relevant passages, it'd be much appreciated.

Andrew

#15 Nina

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 02:47 PM

Some of them raised the idea that some Fathers saw Mary as sinless for part of her life (i.e., while carrying Christ), but not her whole life. It may also be possible that some or all of the "Mary as sinner" passages were actually referring to a different Mary (Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Martha, etc.). However, without references I can't be certain either way.

This is a very important point that Mike raises (thank you!). That is why we are taught to refer to her as Panagia, Theotokos etc. not only to distinguish and give her the due and proper honor, but also to avoid confusions with the rest of Marias, since the name has been and is so popular.

The site earlychurchfathers.org has a page which lists some references for early writings referring to Mary as sinless. However, don't trust any reference as really claiming that without checking it first.

This is another very important point (again thank you Mike!). Because some source cites (like the Encyclopedia above) and interprets a saying from the Fathers, it does not mean that the Fathers meant it so, or were writing for that purpose. I think it was Peter who posted that in an article a modern day Bishop cautions against taking Fathers out of context etc.

P.S Thank you Father Raphael for the explanations.

#16 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 03:02 PM

When I read the following in my inbox I thought it to be in response to what I wrote. Coming to the boards I see it is not. But it sums up the point concerning the Mother of God so neatly that I thought it proper to post it here:

Peter Farrington wrote:

She must be fully and completely human as we are to share our own humanity completely and fully with Her Son and Her Saviour.


"Fully and completely human" is something we have discussed at Monachos many times, so much so that it has become almost a trade mark of Monachos.

God's meeting with humanity is fundamental to what we mean by salvation. Sin is not left out of this since sin is so much a part of what we as humans now endure. But yet God does not submit to sin in the sense that He engages in anything sinful. This precisely is the Mystery of God's love that He can 'meet' sin in a much more profound way than us but yet without this in any sense being sinful. An analogy perhaps is someone who experiences the effects of a terrorist bomb blast: this experience is not equivalent to the sinfulness of the person who initiated the bomb but yet the experience is more real in a way. Faintly in some such way God experiences the sinfullness of man and the Mother of God as deified shares in this kind of experience.

This however means that what is fully and really man refers not just to sin. No matter how real the experience of sin is to us there is a crucial sense in which the experience of sin is also un-real. This is so since man's authentic nature actually refers to a deified condition and not that which is sinful. The deified person's experience of sin in virtue of the fact that he/she has communion with the human condition is also different from that of the sinner who sins.

As remarked in my last post, the positive language we use about the Mother of God, refers not only to how we exalt & honour her. Beyond this it refers to how she sums up and refers to the true purpose of human nature; ie to live in a deified and hence in some sense sinless state.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#17 Michael Stickles

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 03:58 PM

Fr. Raphael's quote from St John Maximovitch got me thinking.

The Virgin Mary, having given Herself entirely up to God, even though She repulsed from Herself every impulse to sin, still felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others and ardently desired the coming of the Saviour.


Especially about "the weakness of human nature" in comparison with Athanasius' reference to "the corruption which goes with death". Now, one of the reasons Protestants object to the idea of Mary as sinless is because of the widely held theory that Christ's death was primarily a penal or judicial substitution -- that we deserved death for our sins, but He died as a substitute for us. Therefore, if Mary did not sin, she didn't need Christ to die for her.

But if I'm putting things together correctly, and if what St. John refers to as "the weakness of human nature" is at least largely the same as what Athanasius calls "the corruption which goes with death", then even if Mary was indeed sinless, that would not at all infer that she did not need Christ's redemption. Rather, it would allow her to know the experience of that weakness or corruption in itself, apart from the consequences wrought by sinful behavior, and desire more greatly the redemption from that corruption which Christ obtained for us through His incarnation, death and resurrection.

#18 Nina

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 07:08 PM

As remarked in my last post, the positive language we use about the Mother of God, refers not only to how we exalt & honour her. Beyond this it refers to how she sums up and refers to the true purpose of human nature; ie to live in a deified and hence in some sense sinless state.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Exactly! Dear Father you say things so beautifully and explain them with such ease that is conveyed even through internet :).

Dear all,

There is a reason why we chant the hymn Άξιον εστίν (It is truly meet) during Divine Liturgy. "It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, the ever-blessed and all-immaculate and Mother of our God." This part of the hymn was revealed to us and inscribed in the slate by the Archangel Gabriel himself. Further in the hymn we chant: "More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim." Seraphims and Cherubims did not sin as far as I know. If we maintain that Panagia sinned, how can we chant those verses during Divine Liturgy? That would be a lie and sacrilegious.

The greatness of Panagia is that she is a human and she rejected sin by her own will (what we are called to do also). Here is another quote from the book The Feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan Hierotheos:

"No one is born free of the ancestral sin. The fall of Adam and Eve and its consequences were inherited by the whole human race. Of course even the Panagia could not be freed from the ancestral sin. The words of the Apostle Paul are clear: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3,23). In this apostolic passage we see that sin is understood as a deprivation of the glory of God and also that no one is exempt from sin. So the Panagia too was born with the ancestral sin. [...]

[...W]e must say again that the ancestral sin meant deprivation of the glory of God, alienation from God, the loss of communion with God. It also had physical consequences, however, because decay and death entered the bodies of Adam and Eve. In the Orthodox Church the inheritance of ancestral sin does not mean inheritance of the guilt of the ancestral sin, but rather of the consequences of sin, which are decay and death. Just as when the root of a plant becomes diseased, so do the branches and leaves, with Adam's fall it was the same. The whole human race became ill. The decay and death which man inherits is the favorable climate for the nurture of passions. In this way man's nous is darkened."

(pp. 26-27)

Here, we have the explanation of Saint Gregory Palamas who called Panagia the first hesychast, to understand how Panagia dispersed the "darkness of the nous" (please refer to the previous quotes of Met. Hierotheos in post # 3 and what Father Raphael says in post # 13).

"The Panagia's reply to the archangel's message that she would be granted to give birth to Christ was expressive: "Behold the servant of the Lord! Let is happen to me as you have said" (Lk. 1,38). Here we see the obedience of the Panagia to the words of the archangel, and also her obedience to God in respect of an event which was astounding and strange to human reason. Thus she subjects her reason to the will of God.

Some people maintain that at that moment all the righteous men of the Old Testament, and all mankind were waiting anxiously to hear the Panagia's reply, fearing that she would refuse and not obey the will of God. They maintain that because whenever man is in such a dilemma, precisely because he has freedom he can say yes or no, and just as in the case of Adam and Eve the same could have happened with the Panagia. But the Panagia could not refuse, not because she did not have freedom, but because she had real freedom. St. John of Damaskos distinguishes between natural will and the will of choice. A person has the will of choice when he is characterized by ignorance of something, by doubt, and finally by the inability to choose. He is wavering about what to do. A person has natural will when he is led in a natural way, without vacillation, without ignorance, to put the truth into action.

It seems, then, that the natural will is connected with "will-ing", while the will of choice is a matter of "how to will", especially when there are doubts and waverings. It follows then that natural will is the perfection of nature, while the will of choice is the imperfection of nature, since it presupposes someone who has no knowledge of truth, who is not sure about what he ought to decide.

Although Christ had two wills because He had two natures, human and divine, he had a natural will in the sense that we mean here, and certainly he did not have a will of choice. As God He always knew the will of God the Father, and there was never any doubt or wavering in Him. This is also experienced in the saints by grace, especially in the Panagia. Since the Panagia had attained deification, it was impossible for her to reject the will of God and not consent to the incarnation. She had perfect freedom, and therefore her freedom always acted in accordance with nature and not against it. Since we have not reached deification, we have incomplete freedom, with the so-called will of choice, and therefore we waver about what is to be done. Her question "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" shows humility and the weakness of human nature, but also the paradox of the matter, since there are miraculous conceptions in the Old Testament, but not without seed."

(pp. 28-29)

#19 Nina

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Posted 13 July 2007 - 03:06 AM

There is a reason why we chant the hymn Άξιον εστίν (It is truly meet) during Divine Liturgy. "It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, the ever-blessed and all-immaculate and Mother of our God." This part of the hymn was revealed to us and inscribed in the slate by the Archangel Gabriel himself.


Today (July 13) we celebrate the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel and also the miracle of the Icon of the Theotokos Άξιον εστίν (It is Truly Meet) in front of which the Archangel Gabriel revealed to us the verses "It is truly meet to call thee blesed, the Theotokos, the ever-blessed and all-immaculate and Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim."

Please read the story below which came into my Inbox (but I have been told from a friend here that it is from OCA website):

Icon of the Mother of God "It Is Truly Meet"

The "It is Truly Meet" Icon of the Mother of God is in the high place of the altar of the cathedral church of the Karyes monastery on Mount Athos.

One Saturday night an Elder went to Karyes for the all-night Vigil. He left, instructing his disciple to remain behind and read the service in their cell. As it grew dark, the disciple heard a knock on the door. When he opened the door, he saw an unknown monk who called himself Gabriel, and he invited him to come in. They stood before the icon of the Mother of God and read the service together with reverence and compunction.
During the Ninth Ode of the Canon, the disciple began to sing "My soul magnifies the Lord…" with the Irmos of St Cosmas the Hymnographer (October 14), "More honorable than the Cherubim…."

The stranger sang the next verse, "For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden…." Then he chanted something the disciple had never heard before, "It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God…" Then he continued with, "More honorable than the Cherubim.…"

While the hymn was being sung, the icon of the Theotokos shone with a heavenly light. The disciple was moved by the new version of the familiar hymn, and asked his guest to write the words down for him. When the stranger asked for paper and ink, the disciple said that they did not have any.

The stranger took a roof tile and wrote the words of the hymn on its surface with his finger. The disciple knew then that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. The angel said, "Sing in this manner, and all the Orthodox as well." Then he disappeared, and the icon of the Mother of God continued to radiate light for some time afterward.

The Eleousa Icon of the Mother of God, before which the hymn "It Is Truly Meet" was first sung, was transferred to the katholikon at Karyes. The tile, with the hymn written on it by the Archangel Gabriel, was taken to Constantinople when St Nicholas Chrysoberges (December 16) was Patriarch.

Numerous copies of the "It Is Truly Meet" Icon are revered in Russian churches. At the Galerna Harbor of Peterburg a church with five cupolas was built in honor of the Merciful Mother of God, and into it they put a grace-bearing copy of the "It Is Truly Meet" icon sent from Athos.



#20 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 13 July 2007 - 09:03 AM

Dear all, in an earlier post, Father Raphael wrote:

As remarked in my last post, the positive language we use about the Mother of God, refers not only to how we exalt & honour her. Beyond this it refers to how she sums up and refers to the true purpose of human nature; ie to live in a deified and hence in some sense sinless state.


I think this (and the remainder of his post, as well as comments in other posts since) brings up an important issue in this context. If we are to search the patristic corpus for signs that the Theotokos' sinlessness means 'she never did anything at all wrong', I fear we'll be gravely disappointed. But is this what we mean by human sinlessness? A look at some of the early fathers, who explored her perfected obedience, yet also not mistakes in action, might be helpful.

INXC, Matthew




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