The Truth is not confined to any text—even those of the canon itself. This is doubly the case when we come to the witness of the Mother of God, of whom the Church has always been reticent to write too much in dogmatic terms, given the great and personal mystery of her person.
Father, this is where you really do seem to be struggling, on one hand to avoid scandalizing the faithful and on the other hand to allow that being faithful doesn't mean we have to swear that everything in the PJ actually happened just the way the PJ says. You say that the Church "always been reticent to write too much in dogmatic terms" about the Theotokos because of “the great and personal mystery of her person,” but our Lord is a much greater personal mystery, and yet all our dogma concerns Him. It is much more believable that the Church has not dogmatized much about the Theotokos because there is not much about the Theotokos that is essential to the Gospel. What is essential about the Theotokos is in the Gospel — all four of them. It is essential that we believe in the annunciation, the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth, the divinity of the Christ child, and the blessedness of the Virgin. Without these, the Gospel itself becomes incoherent. It is not essential that the Virgin's parents were named Joachim and Anna. We have no reason to question the names Joachim and Anna, but if their names were John and Jane, it would make no difference to our salvation. And so the Church has not dogmatized on the matter, though some of the faithful seem to have here.
But let us be clear about what is at issue here. No one has gainsaid the Church's liturgical use of the PJ, only our understanding of that use. Some have insisted here (1) that everything we say about the Theotokos in church must be understood in the most literal sense, (2) that nothing may be understood as metaphor or hyperbole, (3) that every detail of our worship of Mary is just as important as every detail of our worship of Christ, (4) that every word of every liturgy that has come down to us must be accepted without question and understood only in a certain way, and (5) that anyone who does not accept that certain way is anathema — yet the Church itself has never issued such an anathema. It has, as you say, anathematized those who deny the virginity of the Theotokos, but it has never anathematized those who deny that the Theotokos was raised in the temple from the ages of 3 to 12.
It is this claim — that the Theotokos was raised in the temple — that is the main reason the PJ is considered apocryphal, probably also the main reason the PJ was not sanctioned by the Church as apostolic, maybe also the reason it was condemned by Pope Gelasius. The claim is incredible. The temple had no living quarters, and the Jews had no tradition of temple virgins. It is even more incredible that the Jews would have allowed a young girl into the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, and only once a year (Heb 9:7). Not even the PJ makes that claim, but our liturgy of the Entry does. It's a nice image, and the angels would have rejoiced to see it. It’s a beautiful way of making the analogy between the temple and the Virgin, the new Holy of Holies. But everything we know about the people in Jerusalem at that time tells us it could not have happened. For it to have actually happened, the Jews of that time would have had to have been more pious, more faithful, more open to God than at any other time in their history. Yet just a generation later they were so wicked that they crucified Christ.
There is another way to understand the words of our worship. We need not insist on the absolute historicity of every song sung about the Virgin in church. When we do insist on it, we make an idol of our tradition and worship our way of worship instead of Truth, we turn the Gospel of Christ into an ideology that defies facts and logic and tolerates no dissent, and we lay "heavy burdens and grievous to be borne" on simple hearts seeking truth who read this thread and go away thinking that the Orthodox care more for the traditions of men than for the truth in their tradition.
In Christ, Dn. Patrick
Edited by Brian Patrick Mitchell, 26 February 2010 - 10:08 PM.