Saint Mary’s Virginity

(saint_mary)st_mary-006 A series of lectures given by Fr. Tadros Malaty on the topic of Saint Mary in the Orthodox Concept. These lectures cover Saint Mary's Virginity, The Theotokos or the Mother of God, Our New Eve, Full of Grace, Our Mediatrix, Saint Mary the model of virgins, Saint Mary and the Church & Saint Mary in the Coptic Rite. Fr. Tadros examines these qualities of the Virgin Mary supported by sayings from the Church Fathers.

Aaron’s rod, in fact, is Mary. It is a type of her virginity. She conceived and bore the Son of the Most High, the Word, without human seed.

Theotokia of Sunday.

Biblical Reality
The virginity of St. Mary is not a matter of her own private life, but
rather a ‘biblical reality’, which belongs with our faith in Jesus
Christ. For when the Word of God was Incarnated, He was not particular
about the kind of place where he would be cradled, or the clothes He
would wear, or the food He would eat; but He was definitely very
particular about the Virgin who was to be His mother.

The prophet Isaiah gives us a prophetic sign of the Virginal Birth.
“Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel.”
Here the text refers to St. Mary the virgin mother of Emmanuel, directly and literally. It is very accurate, describes St. Mary’s state as being virgin and engaged at the same time.  For the Hebrew term used for “virgin” is ‘almah’ and not ‘betulah’ nor ‘issa’. The word ‘almah’ means a virgin maiden who may be engaged, while ‘betulah’ means a virgin who is not engaged. The word ‘issa’ means a married lady.  If the Scripture uses the word ‘issa’, it does not signify an extraordinary miracle about to be performed by God. (Isaiah 7:10,11), for the married woman can conceive and bear a son. If it uses the word ‘betulah’, it does not describe the state of St.  Mary, who was engaged to St. Joseph. But it uses the word ‘almah’, which fits her state accurately, as a virgin and engaged to St. Joseph who protected her and became a faithful witness of her chastity, leaving no chance for any doubts or suspicion.  It is worth noting that this word ‘almah’ is etymologically used in this sentence to mean the continuation of the state of virginity, and for this reason it has been translated ‘the virgin’, and not ‘a virgin’, to describe the Emmanuel's mother as the virgin even after her child's birth.

Another prophet confirms St. Mary's perpetual virginity, as he says:
“When he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looked towards the east, it was shut. Then the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it, therefore it shall be shut.
It is for the prince; the prince himself shall sit in it…” (Ezk. 44: 1-3).

This sealed eastern gate is a figure of St. Mary's perpetual virginity. For the Lord alone entered her womb, and this gate was never opened to another; its seals were not broken.

In this effect the Coptic Church sings the following hymn:
“Ezekiel witnessed and told us: I have seen an eastern gate. The Lord, the Saviour entered it, and it remains shut as it was before”.(2) One of the titles given to the Virgin Mary in the
Byzantine rite is: “Hail O unique gate, through which only the Word passed.”

Virginity & Christology
The Virginal Birth which happened once, never to be repeated, is a proof of our faith in Jesus Christ, that He is not of this world, but from on high, the Son of God. This is what the angel Gabriel proclaimed to St. Mary herself when she asked him: “How can this come about, since I do not know man?!”, “ the Holy Spirit will come upon you ” , the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and so the Child will be called Son of God” ( Luke 1: 34, 35). Subsequently, this Virginal Birth formed a principal element in all the creeds of the Early Church, not because it says something about St. Mary, but rather because it reveals the Person and Nature of Jesus Christ.

For example, the Creed of St. Hippolytus (c. 215) states:
“Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary…..?” This argument was used also by the early Christian apologists, such as St. Justin and Athenagoras, in their defense on behalf of Christianity.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (m. 110 A.D.), preached this Virginal Birth as one of the great Christological (dealing with Christ) mysteries, which were loudly proclaimed to the world in his time:
“The virginity of Mary, her childbirth, and also the death of the Lord”.
These were hidden from the prince of the world. Three mysteries loudly proclaimed but wrought in the stillness of God.

In brief, this doctrine “the Virginal Birth” in fact is the outward sign of the mystery of Incarnation. For it affirms that Jesus Christ who is the real son of a real mother, was not conceived of human seed, but of the Holy Spirit. Although the Son of Man, He has no hereditary sin, but stands at the Head of a new human race.

Virginity and Our Salvation
1. God comes to us, born of a virgin and conceived not of human seed. He unites Himself with us (humanity), not because of our human efforts or merits, but rather as a divine grace bestowed on us. It is the free gift of love which only comes from God.
In other words, St. Mary's virginity is, therefore, a sign of man's poverty and his inability to work out his own salvation; to bring into being One who can save him.
2. St. Mary's virginity does not mean that we have to be passive in our spiritual life. For God did not force Himself in St. Mary's womb, nor did she conceived Him unwillingly, but played an active role. God asked her to accept! The Divine Incarnation was realized by the free grace of God, but she herself humbly accepted obedience.
3. Jesus Christ was born of the “Virgin”, the archetype of the New Church, to declare the heavenly nature of the Kingdom which made its appearance with Christ, for virginity is the law of the heavens, while marriage occurs only in the present world.
Marriage with its effect – “the procreation of children” – ensures the continuity of human life on earth; for the succession of new generations. But in heaven, no one dies, subsequently there is no need of marriage or bringing forth children for the continuity of the heavenly kingdom…. Virginity is the state of all the creatures there.
Now, St. Mary's virginity at the Incarnation of God’s Son, means establishing the heavenly kingdom among the human race. People of God are called to new life; they have to practice the heavenly life (virginity) in their hearts, minds and souls, through their fellowship with God in Jesus Christ, the Virgin Bridegroom. This is the nature of the Church in the New Testament, of which the Virgin Mary is the first and ideal member.

Virginal Birth & Spiritual Birth
In the Coptic Church the Lord’s Nativity (Christmas) is correlated with His Baptism (Epiphany), and in the early centuries these two Lord’s feasts were celebrated in one day.  For at Christmas the Lord took on what was ours, i.e., our humanity, while at his Epiphany the Church hidden in Jesus Christ received what was His own, i.e., His relation to the Father.  He became Son of Man, and we became sons of God.

This reality is declared in the following Church hymn:
“He took what was ours, and bestowed on us what was His own; may we praise Him and glorify Him”.

This correlation between the Lord’s Virginal Birth according to the flesh and our spiritual birth, is paralleled by the divine Incarnation, in the holy womb of the virgin. For, there, the Lord took His body, which ‘mystically’ is the Church united with Him. There the bride (Church) is created to he united with Her Divine Bridegroom.

To this effect Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 429) says:
“The holy Mary is the workshop of the union of natures, the market place of the salutary exchange, the bridal chamber wherein the Word espoused flesh”.

To this effect I excerpt some quotations from the sayings of the Fathers:
* Chastely Christ opened the chaste womb, so that thence man also might similarly be reborn. St. Irenaeus

* Those who proclaimed Him Emmanuel, born of the Virgin, (Isa.7: 14) proclaimed also the union of the Word of God to His handiwork,
“because the Word will become flesh, and the Son of God will become the Son of man, the Pure one opening purely that pure womb, which generate men into God…” St. Irenaeus

* Christ opened the silent, spotless and fruitful womb of the Holy Church, for the birth of God's people. St. Ambrose

* Your divine birth, O Lord, gave birth to all creatures….
Mankind gave birth to You in the body; and You gave birth to mankind in spirit…. Praise to You, who became a Child, to make all things new! St. Ephram the Syrian

* As Christ appropriated a body taken from a woman and was engendered by her according to the flesh, He recapitulated in Himself the generation of man. St. Cyril of Alexandria

* We affirm that the Only Begotten Son became man (oikonomia)…. so that, horn of a woman according to the flesh, He might recapitulate in Himself the human race …. and by the flesh united to Him, He might incorporate all in Himself . St. Cyril of Alexandria

* From on high came the divine Word, and in your (St.Mary's) holy womb reformed Adam (new creation in Christ). St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker

* The Son of God has become the Son of David; do not doubt that you, a son of Adam, may become the son of God.
If God had stooped to such an extreme depth, He has not done so in vain, but to raise us to a sublime height.  He was born of flesh that you might be born again according to the spirit!
He was born of a woman that you might become a child of God.
St. John Chrysostom

* The Son of God made Himself man, that we might welcome Him as a member of our own family, and despite our sins we might be born again to hope….

* We have fled far away from our Teacher, leaving behind the grace He offered us; and what does this Master in His mercy?

He pursues the fugitive to bring him back.  He approaches him not clothed in majesty but with a lowly aspect adopted in Mary's womb, and in that guise becomes his familiar and his friend, making Himself a servant with us that we may became masters with Him.
Theodosius of Ancyra

St. Mary’s Virginity & Spiritual Virginity
In the Old Testament a virgin, without hope of marriage and motherhood, was in the same position as the childless woman, a sad state and a sign of God’s wrath.  In the New Testament, the Virgin, for the first and last time, gave birth to the Messiah, i.e., her virginity is no longer a matter of shame since it has become fruitful by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Virginity became a sign of the intimacy between God and man. For this reason St. Paul calls the Church “Christ’s Virgin”. And in the book of Revelation the unnumbered crowd of God’s elect are represented by 144,000 virgins who “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes” (14: 4, 5).  On this account, virginity is correlated with sanctity, but not in the way that every virgin is considered as a holy one, and every holy person must be a virgin, lest we devalue the Christian marriage which is holy. What we mean is that the literal virginity is merely a sign of the spiritual one. Virginity – in its essence – is the total consecration to God and permanent union with Him in Jesus Christ. It is a virginity of soul, heart, mind, senses and desires, which Christians can receive by the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies, souls and spirits, preparing us for the eternal wedding feast.

* (Virginity) is honoured not for itself, but because it is dedicated to God. St. Augustine

* (Virginity) is a necessary door to a holier life……  It is the channel which draws down the Deity to share man’s state, it creates wings for man’s desire to rise to heavenly things, and it is a bond of union between the Divine and the human, by its mediation bringing into harmony these existence’s so widely divided…..

* It has been proven as well that this union of the soul with the incorruptible Deity can be accomplished in no other way than by attaining the greatest possible purity – a state which, being like God, will enable one to grasp that state of virginity which reflects the purity of God like a mirror in which one’s own image becomes moulded with beauty at the touch and sight of the Archetype of all beauty…. St. Gregory of Nyssa

* (Sermon on Christmas Day)
On this day the virginal birth is celebrated by the virgin church ….
The virginity which Christ desires in the heart of the Church He assured first in the body of Mary.  But the Church can only he virginal if she has a spouse, to whom she can give herself entirely, and He is the Virgin’s Son. St. Augustine

* Your virginity should be something spiritual.
There cannot be many in the Church who are physically virgins, but spiritually everyone of the faithful should be a virgin…..
Watch therefore, watch o my soul, and guard your own virginity.

* Christ’s mother is a virgin, and likewise is His bride, the Church… St. Ambrose

* Your example is now the life of Mary, from which shines forth, as from a mirror, all the beauty of Chastity and the pattern of every virtue….St. Ambrose

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