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The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God (Sergius Bulgakov)

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#21 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 20 March 2010 - 03:58 AM

On the other hand, I cannot recall ever seeing the use of the word sinless in hymnography to refer to the Virgin, but only ever to Christ. This cannot be accidental. The absence of describing the Virgin as sinless (as opposed to innumerable references to her purity and honour) seems to me to indicate a reluctance by the hymnographers to "spell it out" one way or another, that we really cannot know whether she did indeed sin or not, the opinions of individual Fathers notwithstanding.

May I suggest, Olga, that this may be a false inference. Having read the Theotokos homilies of St Gregory Palamas, I believe he would have been horrified by the intimation that Mary was guilty, or even possibly guilty, of actual sin. I think Sts. John Damascene, Nicholas Cabasilas, and Ephrem the Syrian would also have been equally horrified. They were not agnostic about the life-long purity of the Virgin Mary. In the oft-quoted words of St Augustine: "Now with the exception of the holy Virgin Mary in regard to whom, out of respect for the Lord, I do not propose to have a single question raised on the subject of sin--after all, how do we know what greater degree of grace for a complete victory over sin was conferred on her who merited to conceive and bring forth Him who all admit was without sin."

As Met Kallistos Ware observes: "In Orthodox devotion Mary is constantly termed panagia, 'all-holy,' panamomitos, 'without blemish,' and achrantos, 'without spot' or 'immaculate.'" Referring specifically to the title panagia, Kallistos states:

Orthodoxy understands this title to mean that Mary is free from all actual sin, although she was born subject to the effects of original sin, in common with the other holy men and women of the Old Covenant. Thus the Orthodox Church sees in her the supreme fulfilment of sanctity in a human person--the model and paradigm of what it means by God's grace, to be authentically human.

Does not the Dormition and Assumption witness to the perfect sanctity of the Theotokos?

If there is a difference between the descriptive title "sinless" as applied to Christ and the descriptive titles "all-holy" and "immaculate" as applied to Mary, then it seems much more likely (at least to this non-Orthodox, yet one who has lived in Orthodox texts for many years) to lie along the lines suggested by Bulgakov in his book (see the first citation in the above review). "Sinlessness," explains Bulgakov, "belongs in a unique and exclusive sense to the Son of God conceived without seed from a virgin who had never known a man, in that He was a stranger not only to every personal sin but also to original sin." Jesus, and only Jesus, is properly sinless because he is God and was free not only from actual sin but also from the inherited consequences of sin.

#22 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 20 March 2010 - 01:18 PM

Perhaps we could reference here the brief Patristic aphorism that Christ is sinless by nature while all who are created could only be sinless by grace.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

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