Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Immaculate Conception

Arabic original here.

The Immaculate Conception

The Orthodox Church especially honors the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and chants to her at every Divine Liturgy, "More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, true Theotokos we magnify thee." Our Church also teaches that the First Woman, Eve, formed disobedience for the human race, while the New Eve, the Virgin Mary, formed salvation-- that is, our God and Savior Christ-- for the human race. Thus she became a mother for every Christian, who is a brother to our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The Virgin Mary received divinity into her body without losing her human nature, which was united to the divine nature. She is the one who "without corruption gave birth to God the Word." She became the first woman who embodied the words of the Apostle Peter, "that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature" (1 Peter 1:4). And so humanity's divinization was achieved in the person of the Virgin Mary.

It is said that a young monk was praying before an icon of the Theotokos on the Holy Mountain and an angel appeared to him and started teaching him how best to magnify the Virgin Mother of God, telling him as follows: "It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure and the mother of our God..." This icon that is known as "It is Meet (Axion Estin)" is kept until today in the chief church on the Holy Mountain.

This exceedingly great honor for the Theotokos did not prevent us Orthodox Christians from rejecting the decision issued by the Vatican in 1854 known as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This decision claims that at the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Anne, she was exempt from any stain of ancestral sin, as a gift from God Almighty.

The decision declares that it is a dogma announced by God and that all the faithful most hold to it.

It is our duty as right-believing Orthodox Christians to declare in turn that this dogma does not honor the Virgin Mary, but rather, to the contrary, it degrades her honor by making her into a sort of superwoman, has though she had magically become a demigod. This decision distorts the personality of the Virgin, the magnitude of her love for God, and her freedom to not accept any sin in her human struggle. Like every human, she inherited the results of original sin, especially the experience of pain and death, as Christ Himself tasted them. Like her Son and Creator, she bore the fullness of human nature without attachment to sin.

All this does not mean that we Orthodox do not confess Mary's virginity, which was declared at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, which declared that she is a virgin before begetting, in the act of begetting, and after begetting. The sign of this appears on her icon in the form of three stars: one on her brow and one on each of her shoulders.

In the Orthodox Church, we never diminish the holiness of the Virgin Mary, but at the same time we do not make exaggerated claims that she is exempt from ancestral sin and its consequences, which strips her of the virtue of her human struggle that made her immune to falling into sin, so that she may remain ever pure. We refuse to regard her as a total partner in salvation in the manner of the Holy Trinity, which alone is Creator and is completely distinct from creation, which includes the nature of Mary, our mother and first intercessor and the holiest of all the saints.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

2 comments:

Unknown said...

There is much in this paragraph that misrepresents the Roman Catholic dogma.

"It is our duty as right-believing Orthodox Christians to declare in turn that this dogma does not honor the Virgin Mary, but rather, to the contrary, it degrades her honor by making her into a sort of superwoman, has though she had magically become a demigod. This decision distorts the personality of the Virgin, the magnitude of her love for God, and her freedom to not accept any sin in her human struggle. Like every human, she inherited the results of original sin, especially the experience of pain and death, as Christ Himself tasted them. Like her Son and Creator, she bore the fullness of human nature without attachment to sin."

First, the teaching does not make her a demigod. It makes her like the first created Eve. It does not take away from her freedom, as grace never takes away freedom, but grants it. She had the "freedom" to sin like Eve, but chose not to. The Catholic Church too holds that Mary embraced death in the Dormition, in conformity to the live of her Son. The Dormition and the eastern liturgical texts of this feast are even referenced in Pius XII's definition of the Assumption. However, her soul was not corrupted by the stain of sin. Her soul, exactly like the human soul of her divine Son, was never corrupted by sin.

I think the debate is really about what is original sin. Does it wound the soul or simply the body? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#405) states that original sin, "is a deprivation of original holiness and justice." Certainly by the nature the soul of Christ never lacked holiness before God. We say the same of Mary, but by grace, not nature. She is the new ark of the covenant, without stain or blemish.

Unknown said...

Furthermore, I don't think this particular issue should be a division between our Churches. Please see the following article written by an Orthodox priest:

http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/09/the-immaculate-conception-and-orthodox.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mystagogy+%28MYSTAGOGY%29