Saturday, 26 August 2006

Some Epithets of Mary

There are a number of epithets used of Mary in the Orthodox Church. We would like to look at a number of them.

The first epithet is Panaghia. This epithet means All-Holy, All-Holy One, All-Holy Woman.

The next epithet is Theotokos. This is a difficult word to translate. It literally means she (or, her) who gave birth to God. Theotokos is a very important word theologically, playing a role as it does in the defense of Orthodoxy against the Nestorians, who denied the fullness of the incarnation. Hence, it would be useful to interpret the term correctly when we are translating the services of the Church. We do not think that merely leaving the word in the Greek does justice to what is involved: the untranslated word becomes a sort of proper name, devoid of meaning and content except for a professional theologian.

The sense of Theotokos as it was debated in the Nestorian controversy is that because the person that Mary bore was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God, he who had taken up human flesh from Mary in taking up a full human nature, Mary is justly to be called she who gave birth to God. It does not have the sense, as some New-Age types would like to think, that Mary is some sort of eternal matrix or ground of being that somehow brought forth the Godhead. The Nestorian position itself is that Mary gave birth to a mere man who was united to the Godhead. This would have made Jesus a man of vastly superior attainments to other men, but still a mere man. This position is actually quite popular in popular modern Western conceptions of Jesus

The next epithet is Mother of God. From the above, this should be clear.

The next epithet is Ever-Virgin. This should also be clear. In contrast with some Protestants, but in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church (or should we say that the Roman Catholic Church maintains the Orthodox tradition?), this means that the Virgin Mary never knew man, even after Jesus’ birth. The Fathers interpret the references in the Gospel to Jesus’ ‘brothers and sisters’ to refer to children that Joseph, a widower, had by a previous marriage.

The next epithet is Unwedded Bride. This is a difficult epithet to translate into English without creating unnecessary connotations. The sense of course is that Mary became the Bride of God—she gave birth to the Son of God—without for all that ever having known man.

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