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The Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

The Virgin Mary is the Theotokos, the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God. She conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was cared for by her betrothed husband, Joseph, who took the child and his mother into his home as his own. One very strong tradition in the Orthodox Church holds that the birth of Jesus was also miraculous and left Mary's virginity intact as a sign; it is also the tradition of the Church that Joseph and Mary did not have relations after the birth of Jesus. She is also called Panagia, the "All-Holy," indicating her closeness to God in her obedience.

Feast days

The Orthodox Church remembers the life of the Theotokos with several feast days. The Liturgical year begins and ends with the feast days of the Theotokos. wonder working Icons of the Theotokos also have their own feast days.

1. The Nativity of the Theotokos is celebrated on September 8.
2. The Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple is celebrated on November 21.
3. The Annunciation to the Theotokos is celebrated on March 25.
4. The Dormition of the Theotokos (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos is celebrated on August 15.

the title 'Theotokos(in Greek, Theta;εοτοκος) is a Greek word that means "God-bearer" or "Birth-giver to God."

The title Theotokos

1. Adoption at the Third Ecumenical Council As a title for the Virgin Mary, Theotokos was recognized by the Orthodox Church at Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. It had already been in use for some time in the devotional and liturgical life of the Church. The theological significance of the title is to emphasize that Mary's son, Jesus, is fully God, as well as fully human, and that Jesus' two natures (divine and human) were united in a single Person of the Trinity. The competing view at that council was that Mary should be called Christotokos instead, meaning "Birth-giver to Christ." This was the view advocated by Nestorius, then Patriarch of Constantinople. The intent behind calling her Christotokos was to restrict her role to be only the mother of "Christ's humanity" and not his divine nature.

Nestorius' view was anathematized by the Council as heresy, (see Nestorianism), since it was considered to be dividing Jesus into two distinct persons, one who was Son of Mary, and another, the divine nature, who was not. It was defined that although Jesus has two natures, human and divine, these are eternally united in one personhood. Because Mary is the mother of God the Son, she is therefore duly entitled Theotokos.

Calling Mary the Theotokos or the Mother of God (Μητηρ Θεου) was never meant to suggest that Mary was coeternal with God, or that she existed before Jesus Christ or God existed. The Church acknowledges the mystery in the words of this ancient hymn: "He whom the entire universe could not contain was contained within your womb, O Theotokos."

The title "Theotokos" continues to be used frequently in the hymns of the Orthodox Church.

2. Translating the word Theotokos While some languages used by various Orthodox churches often have a single native word for Theotokos, it gets translated into English in a number of ways. The most common is Mother of God, though God-bearer and Birth-giver to God are also fairly common. There are difficulties with all these translations, however. The most literally correct one is Birth-giver to God, though God-bearer comes close. Theophoros (Θεοφορος) is the Greek term usually and more correctly translated as God-bearer, so using God-bearer for Theotokos in some sense "orphans" Theophoros when it comes time to translate that term (for St. Ignatius of Antioch, for instance). The main difficulties with both these translations for Theotokos is that they are a bit awkward and difficult to sing.

The most popular translation, Mother of God, is accurate to a point, but the difficulty with that one is that Mother of God is the literal translation of another Greek phrase which is found on nearly all icons of the Theotokos: Μητηρ Θεου (Meter Theou), usually in the standard iconographic abbreviation of ΜΡ ΘΥ. Additionally, a number of hymns employ both Theotokos and Meter Theou—translating both as Mother of God can yield some rather nonsensical language, and it destroys the distinction that the hymnographer intended.

The usage that seems to be dominant in English-speaking Orthodox churches in North America is to adopt the original term itself into English (something English speakers have traditionally done with foreign words almost since the earliest known history of the language), transliterating it simply as Theotokos. British usage gives preference to translating Theotokos as Mother of God.

Full title of Mary

The title Our All-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary (Greek: Τῆς Παναγίας, ἀχράντου, ὑπερευλογημένης, ἐνδόξου, δεσποίνης ἡμῶν Θεοτόκου καὶ ἀειπαρθένου Μαρίας)[1] is often used in Orthodox services when Mary is mentioned.

1. All-holy
The title Panagia (all-holy) never was a subject of dogmatic definition, but it is accepted and used by all Orthodox. This is because she is the supreme example of cooperation between God and the free will of man. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Sometimes Mary is called the New Eve because her obedient submission to the will of God offset Eve's disobedience in Paradise.
2. Immaculate
The Orthodox Church calls Mary "immaculate," "pure," or "spotless" (achrantos in Greek). Some Orthodox state that she was free from actual sin, some say she never sinned, and others just say she died sinless.
As for original sin and the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Orthodox Church has never made any formal and definitive pronouncement on the subject. The majority of Orthodox have rejected the doctrine, for it seems to separate Mary from the rest of mankind, putting her in a completely different class from all the other righteous men and women of the Old Testament. It is important that Mary was the same as all mankind so that all Christians can follow her example and submit to God's will. Also, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception implies an understanding of original sin not held by the Orthodox Church.
3. Most blessed and glorified Lady
The Orthodox Church honors the Mother of God on account of the Son. St. Cyril of Alexandria, along with the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, insisted on calling Mary "Theotokos" not just to glorify her, but to safeguard a right doctrine of Christ's person, the Incarnation. Orthodox Christians feel that one cannot really believe in the Incarnation and not honor Mary.
4. the Theotokos
See above. This is often translated as "the Mother of God."
5. ever Virgin Mary
See below. The Orthodox Church honors Mary as "ever Virgin." In iconography, her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ is represented by three stars on her shoulders and forehead.[2]


One of the more puzzling traditions regarding the Theotokos for modern Christians is the teaching that she is Ever-Virgin, that is, that she remained a virgin before, during, and eternally after the birth of Jesus Christ.

That the Holy Virgin Mary is Ever-Virgin (Aeiparthenos) is not to elevate her to some special status or to incite us to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Rather, it is an affirmation of who Christ Jesus is. Because He has chosen her to be his mother, to conceive Him, to give flesh to Him, to give birth to Him, we understand her as a finite dwelling place of the infinite God. Thus, because she is in this sense this new Holy of Holies, her ever-virginity is a natural characteristic of such an awesome reality.

The whole tradition of the Orthodox Christian Church has always held her to be in truth Ever-Virgin,[3][4] knowing her personally from the beginning and then passing the truths on from one generation to the next, never expanding nor subtracting from what was known in the beginning. Except for a few instances here and there in history, never have Christians regarded her in any other fashion until relatively late in the Protestant traditions. There are many testimonies to her ever-virginity, so let's consider a few:

Testimony from Scripture

The principal understanding of the Virgin Mary as Ever-Virgin in Scripture is expressed in terms of her being a new Ark of the Covenant, a created thing which somehow contained the uncontainable God. The reason that St. Joseph the Betrothed (as tradition names him) did not enter into marital relations with her is that he understood her as one would understand the Ark, that she had been set aside for use by God, and that her womb had in some sense been made into a temple. The language used for the Virgin in the New Testament parallels that used for the Ark in the Old:

From a Roman Catholic source:Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag
  1. Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostomos (Greek) (GOARCH)
  2. The Most Holy Theotokos & Ever-Virgin Mary Mother of God at Come and See Icons
  3. The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God by Fr. John Hainsworth (GOARCH)
  4. Mary Ever-Virgin: Perpetual Virginity of Mary