The Word Magazine, March 1999, Page 13



I N THE MIDST OF OUR Lenten journey, in this time of contrition and repentance, a proclamation of great hope and expectation is heard throughout the Church. Even as our struggles in Lent confront our sin and our powerlessness to overcome it, God sends a messenger to assure us that because of His love and mercy, salvation has been bestowed upon us if only in faith we will receive it.

And so, on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, the Church celebrates this message of salvation delivered to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. What is this message of salvation? The angel Gabriel tells her: “And behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His Kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Gabriel explains to Mary the amazing plan of salvation, that the child within her will be born of her and the Holy Spirit and this child Himself will be God.

In the Feast of the Annunciation, the Church celebrates the initiation of God’s salvation for man, the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. But even as the Church celebrates the divine initiative of God, it also celebrates the response and acceptance of that initiative by Mary. It is clear that Mary is initially troubled and even frightened by Gabriel’s message. She questions the angel’s message — both her worthiness to receive it and the possibility it could be true. Gabriel calms her with two wonderful statements. As to her worthiness, Gabriel says: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). And concerning the possibility that the message could be true, Gabriel responds: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (verse 37). Of her own free will, without force or compulsion, Mary humbly accepts the news of salvation and, in so doing, becomes the Mother of God.

In the visitation of Gabriel to Mary and her acceptance of his message, we can see God’s plan for salvation for all of us. God, in His love for us, is the initiator of our salvation. He offers us eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a free gift; we need only to accept it.

Yet, like Mary, we often question this. “How can this be so? How can God extend salvation to someone like me? Someone so sinful, so wretched . . . how could God love someone like me? I am so sinful, I shouldn’t even be in church!”

Whatever your name, replace it with Mary’s in the angelic proclamation, “Do not be afraid, ____________ for you have found favor with God.” The message of the Annunciation is that God’s love for you is unlimited and unconditional, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. While we are confronted by our weakness and sinfulness during Great Lent, the ultimate message behind the realization of our shortcomings is that the love of God overshadows our limitations. The only things separating us from that power and love are our unwillingness to accept it and the fear of what that acceptance might require of us.

Mary freely accepted God’s love. Her response to the annunciation was, “Let it be to me according to your word.” As we continue our journey to Pascha, let us celebrate the free gift of God’s love — a love that tramples down sin, death and the devil. A love that conquers all. A love that makes us sons of God and heirs of His kingdom.

Let us, like Mary, humbly accept this gift of love and, in so doing, like her, allow God to dwell within us.






The Bible speaks of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Apostle James is even commemorated in the Orthodox Church as the “brother of God.” How then can the Orthodox Church teach that Mary is “ever-virgin?”

THE GOSPELS DO INDEED mention the brothers and sisters of the Lord. They are

even named: James. Joses, Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3: see also Gal. 1:19. Jude 1). Matthew has the same list as Mark, but “Joses” is rendered Joseph in Matthew.

One ancient solution to this question is put forth in the non-canonical “Protoevangelion of James.” This second century Christian writing purports to be the Apostle James account of the birth of Jesus. In spite of the fact that the Church rejected the book as non-apostolic, it nonetheless exercised a profound influence in developing traditions regarding Mary: the names of Joachim and Anna. the details regarding her conception the story of her presentation and upbringing in the tempIe, and many other widely accepted traditions derive from it. This work presents Joseph as an elderly widower at the time of his betrothal to Mary: the brothers of Jesus then are Joseph’s sons by his previous marriage. This view is sometimes presented as the Orthodox position on this subject.

However, the historical value of the Protoevangelion of James is dubious, at best. A far more satisfactory answer is found within the text of the New Testament itself.

Although the actual Greek word used in the Gospels to refer to the brothers and sisters of Jesus normally connotes immediate siblings, the Aramaic word is much more inclusive, also being used m refer to what we would call kinsmen or cousins. (Aramaic was the normal spoken language of Jesus and the disciples.) This usage reflects the fact that in the ancient Near East (and in some areas, to this day), ” family” did not refer primarily to what we call the “nuclear” family (two parents and their children), but to the clan or extended family. Thus it was common for villagers to grow up on the same street with aunts, uncles, cousins, and more distant relatives of the same clan unit. There was often a great deal of intermixing and socializing between different clan members al work, at leisure, and at the table. Thus cousins were much like brothers and sisters in a very real sense and the language reflects that.

This observation is supported by the fact that another “Mary” (definitely not the mother of Jesus) is mentioned in the Gospels as one of the “myrrhbearing women” and called “the mother of James and Joses” (Mark 15:40, 47. 16:1). or “the mother of James and Joseph” (Mark 27:56). The usage of each evangelist follows exactly his own rendering of Jesus’ second brother’s name! (Joses or Joseph.) This shows conclusively that the “”other Mary” (Matt. 27:61, 28:1) was the mother of Jesus’ “brothers,” and that they were his kinsmen, not siblings. Perhaps she was a sister to Jesus’ father Joseph, or a kinswoman of unknown degree. It seems unlikely that his mother would have a sibling sister named Mary, although it is possible to understand that Mary, the wife of Clopas, who was present at the crucifixion, is described as “his mother’s sister” in John’s Gospel (19:25).

Orthodox Chnstians have always understood that Mary was uniquely set apart by God for her roll as “Theotokos ” This special sanctification was due the immense privilege of bearing God in the flesh: to the Orthodox mind, it is incomprehensible that she would then turn to the bearing of other children in the usual way. In other words, the mind of the Church understands that her ever—virginity is implicit in her being the Theotokos.

Some Thoughts Concerning Mary





IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE a young Jewish girl growing up in the days before Christ. You are aware that for centuries the coming of the Savior has been foretold by the Hebrew prophets, and all around you in peopie’s hearts springs the hope that he will soon appear. Well known to you is the saying of Isaiah VII: 14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Doubtless you share with your girl companions the reflection that the young woman chosen to be Messiah’s mother will be one incomparably blessed.

Your uncle, however, is a theologian, and thinks it more probable that Messiah will appear in some such fashion as Elijah in his chariot from the sky. You hesitate to open to your uncle your personal wonder and enthusiasm.

Ordinarily we think of Mary in connection with her son, who is the son of God. Here let us consider her as she was before she gave birth to him, that we may better realize the strength and depth of her character, and see her as a person. That she should be the one to carry out the ancient prophecy is of course essentially part of Mary’s character. But it is easy for us who think of ourselves as Christians to forget how far back in Biblical history the part the Virgin plays in it extends. We know that the Jews were the chosen people; they were the people chosen to bring into the world the spiritual Mother to whom all people who believed in her might appeal.

In the prophetic mind of the Hebrews there was knowledge of Mary long before she was born. Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, refers to her in 111:15 where it speaks of the woman bruising the head of the serpent, who is the devil. Indeed it is rewarding to search the Old Testament for figures of the Virgin; they are plentiful.

Since in actuality you are not a young Jewish girl alive in a past age, but a twentieth century follower of Christ, the verse of Isaiah is familiar to you also from Matthew and Luke, who quoted it directly, roughly 800 years after the prophet uttered it. So you may realize how right were those who, despite absence of evidence since Mary had not vet come, still trusted it.

Others took it and similar prophecies more as figures of speech. Yes, Messiah would come, and his coming would be unlike anything that had ever happened in the world before; Messiah would reveal himself in some extraordinary way — only not in this extraordinary way —they could not believe that he would arrive literally through the channel of a woman.

How indispensable the feminine vessel was, is made emphatically, indubitably clear by the New Testatment. Matthew’s gospel opens with the words: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. These words head the list of the paternal ancestors of Joseph for thrice fourteen generations. Then at verse 18 we are told: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Here for the first time the woman, the mother who instead of begetting gives birth, is considered.

Joseph himself did not quite believe that Mary was carrying a child conceived by the Holy Spirit until convinced of it by the angel of the Lord in a dream.

Luke has more to say about Mary. The angel Gabriel came to her from God with the message that his son was to be born of her. For a brief moment she was puzzled, she was troubled, but that moment sufficed for her to understand fully what she was agreeing to, before she answered: Be it unto me according to thy word. If we suppose she was merely obedient, we fail to do justice to her exercise of free will. Her being taken unawares by Gabriel provided the test of her willingness, and proved it. Had she turned away, one dreads to think what the course of history would have been. It was inevitable that the divine love should find the expression it sought and the Word be made flesh in one too humble not too astonished that she herself was the favored young girl. And it was inevitable that Mary should say yes.

How highly Mary valued the favor of God is shown by her song of praise to Elizabeth, her cousin, in Luke I:46ff.

Scripture tells us that Mary’ belonged to the tribe of Judah like Joseph and was descended from David as Joseph was also. But aside from these few facts we have little historic information about Mary. On the other hand the legends which have sprung from people’s devotion to her are plentiful. For instance the traditional belief that her parents, Joachim and Anna, went without offspring for a long period during which they prayed earnestly for a child. Once Anna was walking in the garden when she espied a nest of baby starlings and burst into tears to think of the mother bird’s good fortune to have her young in contrast with the reproach of childlessness suffered by Anna.

Joachim and Anna promised the Lord that if a child were born to them, the child should be dedicated to the service of the Lord in the temple. So when Mary was three years old her parents brought her to the priest to receive instruction. The small girl walked up the temple steps all by herself. In the temple she learned to lead a life of prayer. She was also taught how to weave and dye cloth, and she helped in making the curtains for the temple.

These legends of Mary’s parentage and early years contain a psychological insight we would do well to ponder. It will help us to fulfill the personal realization of her presence which is so necessary in the practise of our faith.