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CommunityChurchThe Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos & the Holy Scriptures

The Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos & the Holy Scriptures

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The following, slightly modififed, is from a paper I wrote entitled “Why the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos is Dogma” for school. The Ever-Virginity of the Panagia is the belief that the Panagia remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. This is an essential aspect of our Faith, important for our salvation.  It is closely connected with the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, becoming a human being.  The implications and consequences of this unparalleled event in the history of the world are extremely significant and they are especially significant for the person of the Theotokos.  The Panagia gave birth to God. That’s pretty significant, to say the least.  As such, this holy woman was consecrated to God and to God alone.  The Orthodox Church celebrates this with the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple at age 3 on November 21 each year. With a proper understanding of the Incarnation, the Ever-Virginity of the Panagia is so necessary, as Father George Florovsky and Saint Nektarios of Aegina teach us, among the extremely long list of Fathers and Saints of the Orthodox Church from ancient times up to this very day – both from the East and the West. Father Florovsky and Saint Nektarios, in very explicit terms, refer to the Ever-Virginity as dogma. When we preach Christ, this is part of the introduction into the Faith.  It safeguards a proper understanding of the Incarnation. Saint Kosmas Aitolos thought it necessary to teach that the Panagia is ever-Virgin in the beginning of his teachings on his missionary journeys throughout Greece during the Turkish occupation. Saints Epiphanios of Cyprus and John of Damascus, the great defender of the icons who wrote a summary of all the essential beliefs of the Orthodox Church, call denial of the Ever-Virginity heresy.

The Saints and Fathers speak the mind of the Church.  The Ever-Virginity of the Panagia is proclaimed in the Fifth Ecumenical Council of the Church, in all our liturgical services, in the hymnography of the Church, in iconography (the 3 stars on the Virgin’s garments signify her being a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ), and is supported by the Holy Scriptures. The following is meant to show how the Scriptures support it. The Ever-Virginity is clearly then not a side issue that is meant to be discussed by the theoretical, academic theologians. The responsibility of the Church is to preach the truth in love and to show it in every action. Even when done in love, some people still will not like what the Church has to say.  Nonetheless, the responsibility of the Church, and thus our responsibility as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, is to do what is right, not to please everyone, but to do what is right.

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Saint John Maximovitch tells us, “A careful study of Sacred Scripture reveals with complete clarity the insubstantiality of the objections against the Ever-Virginity of Mary and puts to shame those who teach differently.” Certain Protestant groups like to object to the Ever-Virginity of the Panagia due to the verse from the Gospel of Matthew that reads that Joseph “did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son” (Matthew 1:25, NKJV). Saint John Maximovitch tells us that word “until” does not tell us that Mary remained a virgin only until a certain time. He insists that “‘until’ and words similar to it often indicate eternity.” Saint Ignaty Bryanchaninov, another modern-day Russian Saint, is in agreement with regards to the meaning of the word “until.” “The Virgin,” he says, “has sealed Her virginity by giving birth to God the Word, and will forever remain a Virgin.” Saint Theophylaktos of Bulgaria writes, “For ἕως (the original Greek word used in Matthew 1:25), here does not manifest, that up to the point of the birth he did not know her, and after these things he did know her, but once and again never did he know her.” Saint Jerome, a great Western Saint, who wrote an entire treatise defending the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos against the heretic Helvidius, references a number of passages from Scripture that prove this to be the case. He advises Helvidius and thus all of us, “He (Helvidius) would do well to pay heed to the idiom of Holy Scripture, and understand with us, that some things which might seem ambiguous if not expressed are plainly intimated.” Take for example, he says Christ’s last words to the Apostles in the Gospel of Matthew: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NKJV). Saint Jerome boldy asks, “Will the Lord then after the end of the world has come forsake His disciples, and at the very time when seated on twelve thrones they are to judge the twelve tribes of Israel will they be bereft of the company of their Lord?” If God is “everywhere present and fills all things,” as the prayer to the Holy Spirit indicates, will He not be that way only until the end of the world? How can God be all in all if He will not be with the Apostles anymore, with the Church anymore? Are we looking at a future eternity without God? Forgive me my boldness for saying this, but is the Head of the Church going to be detached from the Body? Certainly not! This is impossible.

 

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Saint Jerome also brings up another verse from Scripture. “For He (Christ) must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25, NKJV). Will Christ then stop reigning at the right hand of the Father after all His enemies are put under His feet? It is ridiculous to think so. Here is another verse that Saint Jerome cites, a verse from the Book of Psalms, which is also used during the Aposticha Hymns for Vespers: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters, as the eyes of the maidservant look to the hands of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God until He shall have compassion on us” (Psalm 112 (113): 2, NKJV). Saint Jerome very bluntly asks, “When mercy is obtained will he (the prophet David) turn his eyes down to the ground?” Shall we also not look the Lord anymore once we have obtained mercy? Do we not need Him anymore, He who is our “breath,” our “life,” our “joy, and the world’s salvation, according to one of the preparatory prayers of Saint Simeon the New Theologian for Holy Communion?

 

In the spirit of these Fathers, the Greek theologian Panagopoulos states that the words εως and εως αν have the meaning of “always” or “eternally.” He cites Psalm 110:1 as support: “The Lord said to Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies the footstool of Your feet.'” This verse from the Psalms is understood to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ. As Saint Jerome asked when quoting from Saint Paul, will Christ sit at the Father’s right hand only temporarily and not especially after the triumphal, final victory over all His enemies? Certainly not! Father Stanley Harakas also writes that “ἕως” is frequently used in the Bible to describe actions or states which continue beyond the noted event. Father Harakas also quotes John Kalogerou of the University of Thessalonike who writes concerning ἕως: “Its use does not indicate of necessity any change of condition following the designated period. It serves as a form of emphasis for the reality and the continuation of the event described before the use of the term ‘eos.'” Father Harakas brings up as an example the raven from the story of Noah and the flood in the book of Genesis. “Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters dried up from the earth” (Genesis 8:7, NKJV). As Saint John Chrysostom, the great Hierarch and Ecumenical Teacher, writes, “And yet it (the raven) did not return even after that time.” Saint John Chrysostom also relates that,

“He hath here used the word “till,” not that thou should suspect that afterwards he did know her, but to inform thee that before the birth the Virgin was wholly untouched by man. But why then, it may be said, hath he used the word, “till”? Because it is usual in Scripture often to do this, and to use this expression without reference to limited times.”

 

Saint John Chrysostom, referring again to the use of the word εως but also to the “brothers” of the Lord, says that

“that which both was seen to be a consequence of the former statement, and was acknowledged, this in its turn he leaves for thee to perceive; namely, that not even after this, she having so become a mother, and having been counted worthy of a new sort of travail, and a child-bearing so strange, could that righteous man (Joseph) ever have endured to know her. For if he had known her, and had kept her in the place of a wife, how is it that our Lord commits her, as unprotected, and having no one, to His disciple (my note: here, referring to Saint John the Evangelist), and commands him to take her to his own home?

 

Saint John Chrysostom is referring to this verse from the Gospel of Saint John, “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27, NKJV). Bishop Lazar Puhalo points out that Christ would have done His supposed “brothers” “great disrespect and harm if He had done this.” First off, I think it goes without saying that Christ had such great love for His Mother that even in His death, He did not forget her. Imagine the pain felt by the Virgin Mother seeing Christ at the Cross. It brings one tears if we sit and think about it. Christ sets an example for us all of how we should love our parents. He however also sets the example and the precedent of how much respect we should show His beloved Mother, who is the Mother of all of us Orthodox Christians. Do not we do this every time we pray Small Compline? Do we not, even in our own deaths, seek to remember her? “At the hour of my death, care for my miserable soul and drive the dark visions of evil spirits far from it.” Should this not be a prayer that we all practice? But most especially with Christ’s action here on the Cross, I do not think it is a stretch at all to say that Christ is also indicating that we show the Panagia additional, necessary, and proper respect by calling Ever-Virgin because that is what in fact she was. If she was not a Virgin when Christ was age 33, why in the world would Christ entrust the care of His Mother to one of the Apostles, albeit the Beloved Apostle, but nonetheless not a brother, not a son whose biological Mother was the Virgin Mary?

 

Regarding the “brothers” and “sisters” of the Lord Jesus, Bishop Lazar Puhalo gives another detail to the answer. He says that the relationship Christ has with these people must be understood and placed in its proper context, the Hebrew-Aramaic tradition, according to which even cousins were called brothers and sisters. He points out, much to my joy and my own personal experience, that this is the case also in Greek and Slavic languages and cultures to this day. “So we do not have to speculate about it,” he says. “This is a fact we know very well from our own families and lives.”

 

Moreover, if we take a look at the Scriptures themselves, it is noticed in the book of Genesis that Abraham and Lot are referred to as “ἀδελφοί,” yet we know that Lot was Abraham’s nephew. “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren'” (Genesis 13:8, NKJV). Once again, Saint Jerome elucidates the issue. “Certainly,” he writes, “Lot was not Abraham’s brother, but the son of Abraham’s brother Aram.” He points to what we previously can read in Genesis 11: “Now this is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran begot Lot” (Genesis 11:27, NKJV). Lot then was Abraham’s nephew and the Scriptures themselves prove it.

 

Regarding the word “firstborn” (πρωτότοκος in Greek), which was also mentioned in Matthew 1:25, Panagopoulos writes that the word does not mean that other children follow. “Firstborn” is “only-begotten” (μονογενής in Greek). Saint John of Damascus also writes, “For although it is written, And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born Son, yet note that he who is first-begotten is first-born even if he is only-begotten. For the word “first-born” means that he was born first but does not at all suggest the birth of others. And the word “till” signifies the limit of the appointed time but does not exclude the time thereafter.”

 

Panagopoulos also compares πρωτότοκος with πρωτόπλαστος, comparing Christ with Adam. He brings up that Adam is the only one called “πρωτόπλαστος” (first-formed man). This word is mentioned in the Wisdom of Solomon. “Now I also am a mortal, the same as all men, and earthborn, a descendant of the first-formed man” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:1, NKJV). Just like subsequent children are not implied with the word “firstborn,” neither is it implied with “first-formed man.” Indeed, no other human being was formed the way Adam was created, “out of the dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV). Eve, after all, was created from the rib of Adam (Genesis 2:22, NKJV). This is significant too because Saint Paul, when comparing and contrasting Christ with Adam, refers to Christ as the “last Adam,” “ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ” (1 Corinthians 15:45, NKJV). How appropriate that Christ’s conception and birth are so unique and this extraordinarily special set of circumstances has immediate implications and ramifications for the Theotokos.

 

-Sources:

Δ. Παναγοπούλου. Οι Τρεις Αστέρες της Θεοτόκου. Αθηναι: Χ. ΠΕΡΓΑΜΑΛΗ, 1958.

Saint Ignaty Bryanchaninov. “The Orthodox teaching on the Mother of God.” Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church – Baltimore, USA, https://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/moth_orth.html.

Saint Jerome, The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.vi.v.html.

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. On the Gospel of St. Matthew. Translated by Rev. Sir George Prevost,. Edited by Philip Schaff. Vol. 10 of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956. Homily V, ch. 5.

Saint John Damascene. An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. Book 4, ch. 14.https://www.orthodox.net/fathers/exactiv.html#BOOK_IV_CHAPTER_XIV

Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God. Translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose. Platina, CA: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1987.

Harakas, Stanley S. The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers. Minneapolis, MN: Light & Life Publishing Company, 1987.

Migne, J.P. P.G. 1864, Theophylactus: ΕΡΜΗΝΕΙΑ ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ. Vol. 123, Κεφάλ. Α’, p.159. The quotation from Saint Theophylaktos in Greek is: “το γαρ Εως, ενταυθα ου τουτο εμφαίνει, ότι άχρι μεν του τόκου ουκ εγνω, μετα δε ταυτα έγνω΄αλλα καθάπαξ ουδέποτε αυτην εγνω.»

Puhalo, Bishop Lazar. “On the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos (Mother of God).” The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, https://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/Brothers.htm.

Vaporis, N. Michael ed. Daily Prayers For Orthodox Christians: The Synekdemos. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

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