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Sinlessness of the Mother of God


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#61 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 08:29 PM

Dear Darlene,

You wrote:

It's not hard to believe at all. In fact, I do believe that the Theotokos was more consistent at being faithful to God than any other human being. As a "mere" human being, (how Fr.Thomas Hopko puts it) she is THE prime, THE quintessential, THE unique and best example of a Christian to all of us. There is none, no one, anybody, that compares with the blessed Theotokos. She outshines us all! However, to agree to all that is bolded above is not affirming that Mary was sinless, and never ever missed the mark her entire life.


in reply to:

Is it so hard to believe that perhaps, of all people, the Theotokos was better at this, more consistant, at an earlier stage (perhaps even from the start), than others? She who was dedicated to God at a very early age by very pious parents, who lived in the Temple, and who was closer to Christ than anyone could possibly be since she carried Him in her own body?


Can you not see that your reply is theoretical and based on what you believe the power of sin to be? Instead why not begin by acknowledging the power of Christ to overcome death and sin? From here then why not acknowledge that yes- sin in its personal manifestations can here indeed be so trampled down through Christ, that only outward temptations remain, not acted upon? Why not even get to the point where it is acknowledged that those who act in this manner still die in the physical sense- but in them the corrosive forces of death draw back to greater or lesser degrees?

If you can then allow your mind and heart to get to this place through an ascetic effort of self restraint of all previous mental and emotional habits- well blessed are you! For then you see the power of Christ and His true gift and something of its extent in the saints, in the Theotokos, and potentially in us.

To deny this though although it sounds like a defense Christ's prerogative actually ends up in denial of His gift to us and power; plus its manifestations in the Church which are there for us to see.

Therefore it is highly unlikely that anyone Orthodox will ever dare to openly backtrack of such a position of sinlessness of the Theotokos. The actual position has been outlined many, many times to reveal that no one is claiming equality with Christ (which is a heresy anyway). But this doesn't mean that on the other hand we fall into something just as grievous- to deny that Christ may sanctify us to an extent beyond expectation and that beginning right now.

But to hop on board as others are saying in various ways- you have to set aside to previous habits of mind and thought and emotion. Again as others are explaining so well, this is baggage and must be set aside for you to experience what others are trying to explain.

There's no cheating allowed when it comes to Christ. To know what His promise is of us being able to fly means, you first have to experience itself. And to do that we have to lay aside the heavy baggage that keeps us chained to the earth. Take a chance and fly!

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

Edited by Fr Raphael Vereshack, 29 September 2011 - 09:25 PM.


#62 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 05:06 PM

May I also recommend the homilies of St Gregory Palamas on the Theotokos: Mary the Mother of God. After reading these homilies, then ask yourself this question: Could St Gregory ever have entertained the proposition that the Blessed Virgin Mary was a sinner, in the way that most other adults, even the most saintly, are sinners? I really do not think he could have. The difficult question is, why?

Orthodox devotion to the Theotokos and St John the Forerunner invite us, I think, to temporarily bracket our theories of universal human sinfulness. Orthodox Christianity know all about the totalitarian pervasiveness of human sinfulness, and it certainly knows what the Bible teaches about sin, and yet it dares to speak the personal holiness of these two individuals in ways that appear to suggest that neither were personally guilty of sin. It has refused to allow theory to annul the truths about the Theotokos and Forerunner that it knows in its deepest heart.

I am as perplexed by all of this as the next person. There is mystery here. It is a mystery that is expressed in the Deisis and the close connection between the Synaxis of the Theotokos and the Synaxis of John the Forerunner. My knowledge of these matters is so exceptionally limited that I hesitate to say very much. But I just want to caution against allowing theory to exclude truths and realities that do not neatly fit into our categories.

#63 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 06:06 PM

Dear Father Aidan, you wrote, concerning the Church's teachings on the Theotokos living without sin:

It has refused to allow theory to annul the truths about the Theotokos and Forerunner that it knows in its deepest heart.


This is wonderfully put. It also sums up nicely what we've seen across this discussion: namely, that the 'theorisations' of our intellect are what often cause us so much trouble -- but toward these the Church proclaims her simple truths. Simple does not mean 'easy'; which is something you also hinted at:

I am as perplexed by all of this as the next person. There is mystery here. It is a mystery that is expressed in the Deisis and the close connection between the Synaxis of the Theotokos and the Synaxis of John the Forerunner. My knowledge of these matters is so exceptionally limited that I hesitate to say very much. But I just want to caution against allowing theory to exclude truths and realities that do not neatly fit into our categories.


Thank you for these comments!

INXC, Fr Irenei

#64 Paul Cowan

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 01:54 AM

The following is more concerning her holiness than her sinlessness, but is written in the first person by Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite the Bishop of Athens in the year 57AD.

During the lifetime of the Mother of God, St Dionysius had journeyed from Athens to Jerusalem to meet Her. He wrote to his teacher the Apostle Paul: "I witness by God, that besides the very God Himself, there is nothing else filled with such divine power and grace. No one can fully comprehend what I saw. I confess before God: when I was with John, who shone among the Apostles like the sun in the sky, when I was brought before the countenance of the Most Holy Virgin, I experienced an inexpressible sensation. Before me gleamed a sort of divine radiance which transfixed my spirit. I perceived the fragrance of indescribable aromas and was filled with such delight that my very body became faint, and my spirit could hardly endure these signs and marks of eternal majesty and heavenly power. The grace from her overwhelmed my heart and shook my very spirit. If I did not have in mind your instruction, I should have mistaken Her for the very God. It is impossible to stand before greater blessedness than this which I beheld."



#65 Anna Stickles

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 12:07 PM

Instead, and unique to her (the one God chose to become the pure and holy living tabernacle of God incarnate), by her ascetical life in humble obedience to God, she did not commit sin. She COULD sin, but she did not. There is nothing meaningless at all in this, in fact, this is why she is regarded as 'more honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim'.


I don't mean to pick on honest mistakes, but since this is such a sensitive issue, I thought that maybe the above was worth a correction. She is not regarded as "more honorable than the cherubim..." because she was sinless, but because she has entered into the deified state that Christ has bestowed upon the human race through adopting it at the incarnation and raising it up be seated at the right hand of God far above all "rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come." (Eph 1:20-21) at the resurrection.

Even the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit at the Conception, was not a state of glory like that which the human race, and she at her Assumption, receives as a result of the resurrection.

It is precisely setting her apart this way, saying that she has inherited something due to her special dispensation of being blameless from birth that is above simply what it means to be fully human that we have to avoid. To be first in glory and to have inherited this most fully, we can say, but not putting her in a separate category.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.


May God answer St Paul's prayer and may we be enabled to receive from the Church in her hymnography and hagiography God's provision for this prayer to become true in us.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 06 October 2011 - 12:23 PM.


#66 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 07 October 2011 - 04:25 PM

The very interesting but off-topic postings on hermeneutics have been moved to a new thread: Orthodox Hermeneutics

Herman the moderating Pooh

#67 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 03:28 PM

I came across this today in St Athanasius. I post it because it relates directly to a question that was previously raised in this thread of whether humanity in Christ can attain sinlessness. I have underlined the particular passages related to this. But really the whole section sets the context for the point that was previously made in this thread.

St Athanasius: Against the Pagans; Part 2

In the beginning evil did not exist. Nor indeed does it exist even now in those who are holy, nor does it in any way belong to their nature. But men later on began to contrive it and to elaborate it to their own hurt. Whence also they devised the invention of idols, treating what was not as though it were. 2. For God Maker of all and King of all, that has His Being beyond all substance and human discovery, inasmuch as He is good and exceeding noble, made, through His own Word our Saviour Jesus Christ, the human race after His own image, and constituted man able to see and know realities by means of this assimilation to Himself, giving him also a conception and knowledge even of His own eternity, in order that, preserving his nature intact, he might not ever either depart from his idea of God, nor recoil from the communion of the holy ones; but having the grace of Him that gave it, having also God's own power from the Word of the Father, he might rejoice and have fellowship with the Deity, living the life of immortality unharmed and truly blessed. For having nothing to hinder his knowledge of the Deity, he ever beholds, by his purity, the Image of the Father, God the Word, after Whose image he himself is made. He is awe-struck as he contemplates that Providence which through the Word extends to the universe, being raised above the things of sense and every bodily appearance, but cleaving to the divine and thought-perceived things in the heavens by the power of his mind. 3. For when the mind of men does not hold converse with bodies, nor has mingled with it from without anything of their lust, but is wholly above them, dwelling with itself as it was made to begin with, then, transcending the things of sense and all things human, it is raised up on high; and seeing the Word, it sees in Him also the Father of the Word, taking pleasure in contemplating Him, and gaining renewal by its desire toward Him; 4. exactly as the first of men created, the one who was named Adam in Hebrew, is described in the Holy Scriptures as having at the beginning had his mind to God-ward in a freedom unembarrassed by shame, and as associating with the holy ones in that contemplation of things perceived by the mind which he enjoyed in the place where he was— the place which the holy Moses called in figure a Garden. So purity of soul is sufficient of itself to reflect God, as the Lord also says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."



#68 Anna Stickles

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 05:36 PM

Tertullian also speaks of this -although I think that other Fathers would not say two parts, but more correctly, two modes of action or two energies.

"That position of Plato’s is also quite in keeping with the faith, in which he divides the soul into two parts—the rational and the irrational. To this definition we take no exception, except that we would not ascribe this twofold distinction to the nature (of the soul). It is the rational element which we must believe to be its natural condition, impressed upon it from its very first creation by its Author, who is Himself essentially rational. For how should that be other than rational, which God produced on His own prompting; nay more, which He expressly sent forth by His own afflatus or breath? The irrational element, however, we must understand to have accrued later, as having proceeded from the instigation of the serpent—the very achievement of (the first) transgression—which thenceforward became inherent in the soul, and grew with its growth, assuming the manner by this time of a natural development, happening as it did immediately at the beginning of nature.

But, inasmuch as the same Plato speaks of the rational element only as existing in the soul of God Himself, if we were to ascribe the irrational element likewise to the nature which our soul has received from God, then the irrational element will be equally derived from God, as being a natural production, because God is the author of nature. Now from the devil proceeds the incentive to sin. All sin, however, is irrational: therefore the irrational proceeds from the devil, from whom sin proceeds; and it is extraneous to God, to whom also the irrational is an alien principle. On the Soul ch 16

This idea of evil not being part of our nature, but also how since the fall it becomes an accretion we need to be separated from is also in St Macarius' 2nd homily

1. LET us beseech GOD that he would divest us of the old man, because he alone is able to take away sin from us, they being stronger than us, that have taken us captive, and detain us prisoners in their own kingdom. But he has promised to rescue us from this sore bondage. As when the sun shines, and the wind blows, the sun indeed has a distinct nature of his own, and the wind likewise another nature, and yet no man is able to make an actual separation of the wind from the suns unless GOD alone shall make the wind to cease, that it may blow no longer;-even so is sin blended with the soul, although both retain their own nature. It is impossible therefore to separate the soul from sin, unless GOD make a calm, and put a stop to this evil wind, which dwells in the soul and body. 2. And again, as a man that sees a bird flying may desire also to fly himself, but not having wings, it is impossible he should fly;-just so a man may be willing to be pure, and without blame, and without spot, and to be always with GOD; but he has not wherewithal to compass it. He is willing to fly up into the divine air, and into the liberty of the Holy Spirit; but, unless he receive wings for his purpose, he can never do it. 3. Let us therefore beseech GOD that he would give us " the wings of the dove," his Holy Spirit, that so " we may fly to him and be at rest;" and that he would separate the evil wind, and cause it to cease from us both in soul and body: for he only is able to bring it to pass."


Tertullian also hints in ch 11 of On the Soul that the soul when conceived partakes of neither the Spirit nor the irrationality of Satan but as it grows then starts to incline in one direction or another. If we say that the Theotokos was holy from birth, then is this simply to say that from birth her soul inclined toward God and thus was preserved unto God, separated from sin?

But this becomes a problem in a culture that sees sin only in terms of the conscious choices we make. In the way that our culture understands children, they cannot be holy, nor evil as something they themselves chose, because they are not making rational, self-reflective choices. In this understanding then to say that one child is preserved holy and others are not seems unfair of God, because the holiness or sinfulness of the child is seen as an act of God not having anything to do with the choice of the child.

I think though in Orthodoxy there is understanding that even babies are not animals operating by instinct, but have a spirit that can incline toward evil or good even before they are self-consciously aware of this. There are many who obviously do incline to sin, who even from very little infants are throwing temper tantrums when they don't get their way, who defend their bodily freedom kicking and crying when picked up or restrained, who are digging a pit which God then has to rescue them from later in life if they choose to cooperate with His Love. And there are also some saints who seem never to have inclined toward sin, or only for a short time and a small degree such that their life was always close to God. St Matrona of Moscow comes to mind. And so it is not far out to say that even from conception the spirit of the Theotokos was inclined toward God and:

preserving her nature intact, she might not ever either depart from his idea of God, nor recoil from the communion of the holy ones; but having the grace of Him that gave it, having also God's own power from the Word of the Father, she might rejoice and have fellowship with the Deity, living the life of immortality unharmed and truly blessed....

But this whole way of looking at things challenges our cultural perception of children, and also as I said does not fit with a view of sin that sees it only as a conscious choice rather then as a spiritual inclination that is preconscious and yet that we are part of and therefore to some extent responsible for.

For this understanding to really sink in though, we have to remove the whole idea of guilt and blame and simply trust in the mystery of the freedom of each soul, and also God's providence for each person that never allows things out of His hand, nor beyond the scope of His love.




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