The Orthodox Church honors St. Mary, the Mother of God, as more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare than the Seraphim. We call her the “Theotokos”, which means “God-bearer” in Greek. We begin our Divine Liturgy by honoring the Theotokos, and through her, we exalt the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and praise our Lord Jesus Christ, who became incarnate of the pure Virgin.
The beautiful Manitho of St. Severus includes the Holy Theotokos at the very beginning of the Syriac Orthodox Divine Liturgy, and unequivocally declares our theology.
In the Qolo from the Wednesday Evening (Ramsho) Prayer of the Syriac Orthodox Church, we proudly sing:
“She was pure and holy in virginity; Pleasing to the King of Kings who dwelt in her womb; Her memory is in heaven and earth; May her prayer be for our refuge”.
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Many of us might not know that St. Mary is symbolized in the Old Testament. The writings of the saints and our liturgical prayers testify to this understanding of Old Testament prophecies and events.
Let us focus now on a few examples:
- One of the favorite events in the Old Testament is God appearing to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1-10). The Church views this event as an image of the Incarnation, and thus, St. Mary is thus called the Burning Bush. As the fire did not consume the bush, so also Christ was born without consuming St. Mary.
- Since St. Mary contained within her the Lord of Heaven, the Church exalts her as the Second Heaven.
- The Theotokos is called the Ark. Just as the Glory of God descended on the Mercy Seat of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22), the Glory of God settled on St. Mary during the Incarnation.
- Just as Aaron’s Rod sprouted miraculously in the Old Testament, so too, the Theotokos budded forth the Flower of Immortality, Christ our God (Numbers 17:1-11).
- In the Old Testament Tabernacle, there were golden candlesticks placed in the Sanctuary. The Theotokos is the Golden Candlestick, which held that Light that illumines the world, Jesus Christ (Exodus 25:31-40).
- The Theotokos is the Holy Censer. Just as the censer holds burning coals, so too the Theotokos held Christ, the Living Coal (Leviticus 16). In the book of Revelation, there stands an Angel before the Throne of God, swinging a censer, representing the prayers of the Saints rising up to God (Revelation 8). This is a symbol of the Theotokos, for it is her prayers that find special favor before her Son, Jesus Christ.
- In the Exodus, the Israelites were led out of Egypt by a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night, symbolizing the presence of God in their midst (Exodus 13:21-22). So too, the Theotokos is the Pillar of Cloud and Fire, containing God within her, and bringing God into our midst.
- In the book of Judges, we read the account of the dew which appeared miraculously on Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). So too, the Dew, Jesus Christ, appeared miraculously on the Living Fleece, the Theotokos.
- The inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle was called the Holy of Holies, which could only be entered by the High Priest (Leviticus 16:32-34). The Theotokos is the Holy of Holies into which only the Eternal High Priest Christ entered (Hebrews 9:1-7).
- In Genesis Chapter 28, Jacob saw a dream in which he saw a ladder ascending to Heaven, with Angels ascending and descending on it. The Theotokos is the Ladder, stretching from earth to Heaven, because on it, God descended to man and became incarnate. (Genesis 28:10-12).
- In the book of the Prophet Isaiah, the Messiah is called the Rod from the Stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). This means that the Messiah would be born in the line of King David, who was the son of Jesse. This prophecy was fulfilled through the Theotokos, the Stem of Jesse, who brought forth Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
- In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was the place where the Glory of God dwelt. So too, the Glory of God dwelt in the Theotokos, the Living Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). During the Divine Liturgy, the Glory of God is present in the Body and Blood of Christ, which is kept on the Holy Table. The Theotokos is the Holy Table which bears the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.
- The Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the East gate of the Temple, through which the Lord God has entered, and therefore shall remain shut forever. This is seen as a prophecy of the Virgin Birth (Ezekiel 44:1-2).
- In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant contained a golden urn filled with the heavenly manna. The Theotokos is the Urn which contained Christ, the Divine Manna (Exodus 16:33, Hebrews 9:1-7).
- St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon (A.D.120-202) writes the following about the Holy Theotokos in “Against Heresies”:
“Mary the virgin is found obedient, saying “behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” In contrast, Eve was disobedient. For she did not obey when she was still a virgin…Having become disobedient, she was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race. Correspondingly, Mary, who was also a virgin (although betrothed to a man), by yielding obedience, became the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race…This demonstrates the corresponding reference from Mary back to Eve…So it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, thus did the virgin Mary set free through faith”Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 19)
This Feast of Dormition, let us honor the Mother of God, the second Eve who loosened the disobedience of the human race. Let us declare that she is indeed the Theotokos, the mother of the God and through her we become eligible to be reconciled with the Lord God.
May her prayers help us, now and always and at the time of our death. Amen.
By Gregory Rajan
- These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, 1986, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.
- Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 19), 185 AD by St. Irenaeus.
May God bless all of you!
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Well detailed and very informative with biblical references.
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