Mary: The Divine Loom

A mother plays an indispensable role in the upbringing of the child. One of the fascinating observations put forward by few theologians is that had Adam and Eve had a mother they might not have fallen. It is a wild yet provocative speculation. The vacuum of motherhood brings its own disappointing ramifications. This could be one of the reasons God decided to incarnate from a woman to fill our void of motherhood. Through Mary humans receive a Mother. Mary is the quintessential mother reminding us the fact that no woman becomes a mother by virtue of giving birth. She always needs to stand beside her children helping them fulfill the mission that God entrusted them just as Mary unflinchingly stood by Christ till the foot of his cross. As far as Mary is concerned it is not her womb and breasts that qualify her motherhood but her ability to receive and enflesh the Word of God. Christ himself asserts this by responding, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” to a woman who glorifies the biology of his mother, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you” (Luke 11: 27-28). He even says elsewhere, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50). Thus we need to understand the motherhood of Mary not biologically but ontologically. Mary is the personification of everyone who has the audacity to hear the word of God and embody it. As St. Maximus writes; “Christ eternally wills to be born mystically, becoming incarnate through those who are saved and making the soul which begets him to be a virgin mother.”[1] Incarnation is not just a historical event but an eternal necessity.

Mary conceived and gave birth to the Word of God. This is emphasized in the Qolo of Wednesday Vespers; “Through her ear she received him and she bore him.” That the conception happens through her ears reasserts the fact that Christ is indeed the Word of God. “Word” is the greatest Christological title attested to Christ by John who is the Theologian in the purest sense as he laid his head upon the breast of Christ which is the knowledge of God.[2] Origen expatiates this title in his commentary on John;

The Word is ‘the Son’ because he announces the secrets of his Father, who is ‘mind’ analogous to the Son who is called ‘Word’. For as the word in us is the messenger of what the mind perceives, so the Word of God, since he has known the Father, reveals the Father whom he has known, because no creature can come into contact with him without a guide. ‘For no one has known the Father but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” (Matt 11:27).[3]

This quaint idea of Mary conceiving through her ear should be read typologically to be enlightened. Just as Eve hears the word of the serpent and conceives sin so does Mary hear the word of God and conceives Christ. We conceive and embody what we give heed to. St. Jacob of Serug remarks;

See how Eve’s ear inclines and hearkens to the voice of the deceiver when he hisses deceit to her. But come and see the Watcher instilling salvation into Mary’s ear and removing the insinuation of the serpent from her and consoling her. That building which the serpent pulled down, Gabriel built up; Mary rebuilt the foundation which Eve broke down in Eden.[4]

Yet another remarkable quality that one needs to learn from Mary is critical thinking. Obedience is not passivity but a creative and critical reflection on what is to be obeyed. Trading our cognitive faculties for apparent enticements is in essence what led to our fall. Eve was too lazy to debate with Satan and succumbed to his deceit for her desire to be a God outweighed her intellectual veritability. On the other hand Mary was critical and courageously debated with the angel as to how his words would materialize; inquiry precedes silence. Thus St. Jacob explicates;

Eve had not questioned the serpent when he led her astray, she who by her will kept silent and firmly believed the treachery. The latter maiden heard truth from the faithful one, nevertheless in this way she had sought out an explanation. The former heard of becoming a Goddess from a tree, but she did not say: “How will what you mention ever happen?” The Watcher told this one that she would conceive the Son of God, but she did not accept it until she was well informed. That she in her person would ascend to the divine rank, the virgin wife of Adam did not doubt the liar. To this one who would bear the Son of God it was told, but she inquired, sought, investigated, learned and then kept silent.[5]

The creation of Adam and Eve typologically refers to Christ and the Church. We individually mature from Adam to Christ and collectively from Eve to Mary. Church was created in the beginning in its nascent form of Eve. Thus Hermas describes his vision likewise;

And a revelation was made to me, brethren, while I slept, by a very beautiful young man, who said to me, “Who do you think that the ancient lady was from whom you received the little book?” I said, “The Sibyl.” “You are wrong,” he said, “she is not.” “Who is she, then?” I said. “The Church,” he said. I said to him, “Why then is she old?” “Because,” he said, “she was created the first of all things. For this reason she is old; and for her sake the world was established.[6]

This is further elaborated by Fr. John Behr;

The Church is at once older than the rest of the creation; she is created first of all things, and all things are created for her. But as the revelation continues, she becomes a pure virgin, for it is as a spotless virgin that the apostle Paul says that he will present his communities to Christ: this is something to be achieved, something that lies in the future.[7]    

Mary as a spotless virgin personally foreshadows the eschatological nature of the Church. She is at once a virgin as well as a mother. We who take birth from Eve are like still born babies and need to be reborn in the virginal womb of Mary and be nourished by her milk which is the Word himself to come to life as she is the Mother of Life. As St. Clement of Alexandria remarks;

There is only one Virgin Mother, whom I love to call the Church. Alone, this mother had no milk because she alone did not become a woman. She is virgin and mother simultaneously, a virgin undefiled and a mother full of love. She draws her children to herself and nurses them with holy milk, that is, the Word for infants. She had not milk because the milk was this child, beautiful and familiar, the body of Christ.[8]

Mary is our virginal mother who symbolizes the Church; and as St. Cyprian says, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do have the Church for your Mother.”[9] Church is also one of the names of Mary. For St. Ephrem puts it; “The Virgin Mary is a symbol of the Church, when she receives the first announcement of the gospel. And, it is in the name of the Church that Mary sees the risen Jesus. Blessed be God, who filled Mary and the Church with joy. We call the Church by the name of Mary, for she deserves a double name.”[10]

The texture of Mary’s being is woven with great complexity. No wonder she spent her childhood spinning and weaving cloth for the temple prefiguring herself and the one who would be formed in her. Thus Proclus compared the Virgin Mary to “an awesome loom of the divine economy upon which the robe of union was ineffably woven.”[11] Because of the multi-layered theological, Christological, ecclesiological and eschatological meanings associated with Mary, those who refuse to acknowledge her as Theotokos (God-bearer) and Mother of God – the former referring to her theological role in incarnation and the latter to her maternal relationship with Christ, would never be able to unearth the divine mysteries and treasures of faith. As Origen puts it; “If someone believes that Christ did not receive his birth from the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, but from Joseph and Mary, he would be deficient in beliefs that are indispensable to possessing all faith.”[12]

Mary is the first human being who brought to completion the work of God by giving her fiat “Let it be”.[13] For every other creation to happen a divine fiat “let there be” would suffice but a human being would never come into existence until the creature gives his/ her fiat.[14] By giving her fiat Mary becomes the mouthpiece of humanity. This fiat would take the church to the foot of the Cross where we would receive Christ just as Mary received John. As Origen says; “Jesus says to his mother, ‘Behold your son’ and not ‘Behold, this man also is your son’, he has said equally, ‘Behold, this is Jesus whom you bore.’[15] Through this fiat we once again become clay in the hands of our Creator.   

In Christ

Dayroyo Fr. Basil

[1] St Maximus the Confessor, Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer P. van Deun ed. CCSG 23 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), 50.

[2] “The knowledge of God is the breast of Christ, and he who lays his head upon it will be a theologian.” – Evagrius Ponticus

[3] Origen, Commentary on John 1:277-78

[4] Jacob of Serug, Homily Concerning the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, Mary 1: 627.

[5] Jacob of Serug, Homily Concerning the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, Mary 1: 630.

[6] Quoted in John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2006), 119.

[7] John Behr, The Mystery of Christ, 120.

[8] St. Clement of Alexandria Paedogogus 1.6.

[9] St. Cyprian of Carthage, “The Unity of the Catholic Church” in One the Church: Select Treatises, chapter 6.

[10] St. Ephrem of Syria On the Resurrection, as cited in L. Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought trans. T. Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 115.

[11] N. Costas ed. and trans. Proclus of Constantinople and the Cult of the Virgin in Late Antiquity. Homilies 1-5, Texts and Translations (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003), 137.

[12] Origen, Commentary on John 32:191.

[13] John Behr, Becoming Human: Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word and Image, (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2013), 98.

[14] John Behr, Becoming Human, 66.

[15] Origen, Commentary on John 1:23

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