Once upon a time, in the history of mankind, there echoed the most blessed greeting of all times. The greeting arose from the Angel Gabriel, sent by God to a virgin named Mary in the city called Nazareth in Galilee. The Angel, upon reaching Mary, greeted her “Chaire kecharitōmenē ho Kyrios meta sou” (from the Greek – χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη, ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ). Chaire kecharitōmenē means “Hail, highly favored one”.
It is a confounding and a troubling greeting because such a greeting is usually reserved to greet Kings. For example, “Hail Caesar” is one such familiar instance in history. A virgin, a young woman, a woman living in a small town of Galilee is greeted with “Hail” and that too by Angel Gabriel himself. How confounding! How precious!
At this greeting, Mary was troubled, and rightly so. She pondered – what kind of salutation might this be? It is one that is reserved for the kings and queens, and if so, what does it mean? At this, the Angel Gabriel responded, behold “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (St. Luke 1:26-38).
The one who is to be born is a KING! He will sit on the throne of David and He will reign forever, until the end of the ages. Therefore, it is fitting that the Angel greeted her with a royal salutation “Hail Mary”, for Mary is the Mother of the King, the King of Kings who will rule forever.
Looking to the Old Testament
Now, from Galilee, let’s look back to the Old Testament, and ask how a King would honor his mother, the Royal Queen in the Kingdom of Israel? The answer comes to us from the first book of Kings, from the palace of King Solomon.
“When Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand.”
– 1 Kings 2:19
Also, King David, prophecies in the Psalms –
“Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention; Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your Lord.”
– Psalms 45:10-12
Hence, the Fathers of the Holy Church, accurately led the Orthodox Church to sing in our Divine Liturgy:
“The Kings Daughter stands in glory, Halleluiah
And the queen at your right hand.
Leave your people and your Father’s house, Halleluiah
For the King will desire your beauty, Barekmor.”
– Quqlion commemorating the Mother of God
Undoubtedly, St. Mary is the Mother of the King of Kings, and thus the Church, along with King Solomon and King David, honors St. Mary as the Queen at the right-hand side of Jesus Christ, our King.
The Council of Ephesus
Now, fast forward to AD 431. It was the time of the third Holy Ecumenical council of the Church at Ephesus. The title ‘Theotokos’ was rejected by Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople at the time. He said that Mary should be called ‘Christotokos’, meaning ‘birth-giver of Christ’. Thus, Nestorius preached two distinct persons in Christ, the Son of Mary and the Son of God who were united only morally. Nestorius was deposed and excommunicated at the Council, his Christological doctrine condemned, and the title ‘Theotokos’ solemnly recognized and affirmed by the Church once and for all.
Thus, the title ‘Theotokos’ was made official by the Third Holy Ecumenical Council, which decreed that the Virgin Mary should be honored by this name which confirms the Orthodox belief in the Incarnation: that Christ was both true God and true man. We uphold this faith in our Creed, where we recite that Christ was perfect man and perfect god, assuming the nature of manhood from Virgin Mary, the Theotokos.
“And was incarnate of holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, by the Holy Spirit and became man.”
– The Nicene Creed
St. Cyril of Alexandria (+AD 444) boldly proclaimed:
“This expression, however, “the Word was made flesh,” can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was. This the declaration of the correct faith proclaims everywhere. This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers; therefore they ventured to call the Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word being personally united is said to be born according to the flesh. These things, therefore, I now write unto you for the love of Christ, beseeching you as a brother, and testifying to you before Christ and the elect angels, that you would both think and teach these things with us, that the peace of the Churches may be preserved and the bond of concord and love continue unbroken amongst the Priests of God.”
– Second Letter of St. Cyril to Nestorius
Our Patriarch, St. Severus of Antioch (+AD 538), also declares:
“Hail to you, full of grace, the Lord is with you. He took flesh with blood like ours, and became man like us without sin, He endured the birth of the flesh in order that the flesh might become one with Him. He was conceived and born by the flesh to obliterate the grief of the child’s birth and free the human race from the first curse. For this we say that the Holy Virgin is truly the God-bearer, for God, the Word took flesh from her and she had conceived and brought Him forth. One person of two: Divinity and Humanity as the true saying. We confess the Unique Emmanuel as One Lord, One Christ, God the Word became flesh.”
– Synodical Letter from St. Severus to John, Patriarch of Alexandria
The holy Syriac Orthodox Church in the Fifth Diptych (Thubden) of the Holy Qurbana commemorates:
“the illustrious St. Kyrillos, an exalted and veritable tower of truth, who correctly expounded the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, showing clearly that the Word of God became flesh.
We commemorate also our Patriarch St. Severus, the Crown of the Syrians, the eloquent mouth and pillar and doctor of the universal Holy church of God, the flower-filled meadow, who constantly proclaimed that Mary was beyond doubt the God-bearer”
Undoubtedly, St. Mary is the Mother of God, the Theotokos;
Undoubtedly, St. Mary is the Mother of King of Kings;
Undoubtedly, St. Mary is worthy of being hailed, honored and visited by Angel Gabriel;
Undoubtedly, St. Mary is the Mother of the Holy Syrian Orthodox Church;
and undoubtedly, St. Mary is our intercessor before her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
May prayers of St. Mary, the Mother of God help us, now and always and at the time of our death. Amen!
Sonsy Pulikotil Zachariah
- The Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius., Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. III., col. 315; Migne, Patr. Græc., Tom. LXXVII. [Cyril., Opera, Tom. X.]; Epist. iv., col. 43.). https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/cyrilofalex_second_letter_to_nestorius.htm
- The Quotations of Severus of Antioch in the Book of the Confession of the Fathers. http://poj.peeters-leuven.be/secure/POJ/downloadpdf.php?ticket_id=5c8b9b5e9dda1
May God bless all of you!
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