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The Mother of God in the Orthodox Church

Updated: May 29, 2020

The following article by Fr. Vladimir Zelinsky is an excerpt from the Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion.

-Asst. Ed.

The First Step Toward Her Mystery

The Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is an enormous subject in the Orthodox Church. At the same time it is rather modest, dogmatically speaking. In the Orthodox Church the presence of Mary is defined by only two dogmas, but she is advocated by a thousand names or images.

The two dogmas adopted by the ecumenical councils affirm that Mary is Mother of God and that she is the ever-Virgin.{footnote}Formerly, even the dogma of the ever-virginity of Mary was not proclaimed officially. But it was mentioned by the fifth ecumenical council (553) as something evident, which goes without saying.{/footnote} All the rest of what we know about her comes from the Ecclesial Tradition, history, popular devotion, and the Holy Spirit.

“The name of Mother of God is the only name which contains all the mystery of the economy,” as St. John Damascene says. The “economy“ means the “work” that God has done for our salvation, and which is revealed through the name of Mary. In the mirror of her participation in the work of salvation operated by God we shall consider the dogmatical, spiritual and liturgical role of the Theotókos in the Oriental Church.

“Nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved,” said St. Peter of Jesus (Acts 4:12). This confession remains immutable and inviolable for all disciples of Christ. But the other apostle, St. Paul, proclaims the “depth of the riches of wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33); the depth which is concealed from us, but which is constantly revealing the incredible richness of the veneration of Mary in the Orthodox Church can be viewed as a particular form of this revelation. In fact, faith in Christ is fulfilled in the person of Mary with an unspeakable light which betrays the secret of God that only his Mother knows. And she communicates it to us, because she does not cease to reveal the wisdom and the human face of God. Lending an ear to the innumerable prayers addressed to Mary, we understand that each one of them underlines a singular facet of the inexhaustible mystery of the Incarnation-as if the feast of the Nativity continued forever in the Orthodox Church and since Christmas Eve the world lives in astonishment.

“In the Silence of God”

“From apostolic times,” writes the Orthodox Archbishop of San Francisco, John Maximovitch, “and to our days all who truly love Christ give veneration to her who gave birth to him, raised him and protected him in the days of his youth. If God the Father chose her, God the Holy Spirit descended upon her, and God the Son dwelt in her, submitted to her in the days of his youth, was concerned for her when hanging on the Cross, then should not everyone who confesses the Holy Trinity venerate her?”{footnote}Archbishop John Maxomovitch, The Orthodox Veneration of Mary, the Birthgiver of God.{/footnote}

This veneration was not affirmed directly in the letter of Scripture, but was concealed in the spirit of Scripture, and the earlier generation of Christians, obedient to this Spirit, could recognize him in the presence of Mary. One may say that the whole veneration of Mary has matured in the bosom of the spiritual recognition of her presence in the strictly and fundamentally Christocentric faith. One of the first (if not the first) of the witnesses to such recognition, or awakening, of the discreet presence of Mary belongs to St. Ignatius of Antioch. On the way to his martyrdom (107) he wrote: “To the prince of this world, the virginity of Mary and her birth were kept hidden; and so also was the death of our Lord. These are the three glorious mysteries that took place in the silence of God.”{footnote}I Padri Apostolici, Cittá Nuova, 1966, p. 105.{/footnote}

Tradition tells us that St. Ignatius wrote these words during a brief rest while on his way to Rome, where he was sent to die in the arena of the circus. He is not afraid; he begs his friends not to intervene on his behalf with the Roman authorities in order to save his life. Death promises to him a meeting with Jesus-“I am seeking the One who died for us; I want him who resurrected for our sake.”{footnote}Ibid, p. 104.{/footnote} Facing his death, he behaves and confirms his vocation and duty of a pastor; he writes letters to his flock imparting some teachings, he prays, preaches, exhorts. Above all he is concerned about the unity and catholicity of the Church, because where the Church is, there the Christ is truly present, and there truly is the faith and the Eucharist. From the very source of his ecclesial experience, in the offering of his life to God, he discovers the mystery of Mary.

“The links between Our Lady and the Church are not only numerous and close,” writes Henry de Lubac, “They are essential, and woven from within. The two mysteries of the faith are not just solitary; we might say that they are ‘one single and unique mystery.’ … In the Church’s Tradition the same biblical symbols are applied, either in turn or simultaneously, with one and the same ever increasing profusion, to the Church and Our Lady.”{footnote}Henry de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church; Ignatius Press, 1986, pp. 317-318.{/footnote} The same thing can also be repeated by an Orthodox theologian, but with one difference: In the Eastern Church Mary is never above the Church, but always inside of it. (For this reason the term “Mother of the Church” was not accepted by the Orthodox). But the Church constantly “recognizes” itself in the presence and the grace of Mary, as if the Church had the need to live the presence of the Mother of God in her own bosom, to enter more and more in communion with her beatitude, and the Church’s river of praise is never exhausted.

On the contrary, it always finds new expressions; with time it becomes richer, more abundant. For instance, every title given to icons, which express the various facets of Mary’s life in the Church, attempts, through that same title, to anticipate and to explain the secret content by means of the representation of that icon: “Unexpected Joy,” “Finder of the Lost,” “Vivifying Fountain.” “Petitioner for Sinners,” “Divine River of Living Water,” and so on. This river of images and of words that comes from the spring called “Mary” is born in the faith, nourishes it and becomes part of our “ecclesial being,”{footnote}The expression of Metropolitan I. Ziziulas.{/footnote} though it often doesn’t come to light in the Word. However, where the Church is, there is Mary, and where there is Mary, the Church of her Son is born and is formed. In order to understand the origin of our spontaneous veneration, we have to examine our way of living the faith in the Tradition of the Church.

The Heart Filled with the Holy Spirit

“How shall we call you? Full of grace? Heaven, since you made the sun of justice rise? Paradise, since you caused the flower of incorruptibility to blossom? How shall we call you? Virgin, since you remained incorrupt? Chaste Mother?

“Since you held in your holy arms the Son, God of the universe, implore him so that our souls may be saved.”{footnote}Compendio liturgico ortodosso, Rimini, 1990.{/footnote}

Liturgical thought tries to link within itself praise, the marvelous, and the paradoxical. From the very beginning of Mary’s existence in the Church, it is as if Mary were cloaked in mystery, that kind of mystery which gives rise to the wonderment that caused Elizabeth to cry out: “And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43).

Only the heart, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41), can recognize these images, because it becomes a womb giving birth to prayers, praise, dogmatic truths and ecclesial feasts. But Mary herself was, and remains, the living temple, the temple of silence where the Word is born. The Word became flesh, not only at the words of the angel, but also in the silence of the Holy Spirit. And indeed, Mary carries within herself the silence of the Holy Spirit. And in silence she comes to live with us, in our hearts, near the fountain of faith in Christ. Silence is another voice of revelation. God sends his Son who also becomes manifest in the care, in the tenderness, in the prayerfulness, and in the presence of his Mother according to the flesh. Martyrdom, that is, the victory over the world and its prince and the last Eucharist of faith, allows the martyr to discover the Virgin Mary. And there is more: Mary’s virginity as a sign of the great silence of God is united to humankind in order to save it.

The Grain That Grows

“Silence is the sacrament of the coming century,” St. Seraphim of Sarov used to say, in remembering the words of the ancient Fathers.{footnote}Vladimir IIjin. St. Seraphim of Sarov, Moscow, 1995 (Russian).{/footnote}

In the silence of the Spirit, listening carefully to the future century, St. Ignatius was able to hear the mystery of Mary that St. Gregory of Nyssa called “the limit between creation and non-creation.” Ignatius spontaneously found within himself the seed of the presence of Mary. But in reality this seed had been sown in him from the beginning, by his baptism in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This seed was already hidden in the Most Holy Trinity, and Mary’s presence in the ecclesial faith derives from the mystery of Christ. The Word became flesh, and consequently Mary’s flesh, and all human flesh, is filled and consecrated with the presence of the Word.

The same mystery will become clear, and the same silence will speak, to the heart of each individual and also to all the generations that will call Mary “blessed,” and that with her and through her will enter in communion with her Son. But, to use the language of the Gospel, let us remember, as Jesus says while speaking about the reign of God, that “it is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” (Mk 4:31). Also the “little seed” of Mary’s mystery is so small, that it is not even clearly visible in the Gospel. But no sooner is the “Marian seed” sown in genuinely lived faith that it begins to grow. The seed continues to grow in the Church and with the Church who reflects within herself the growth of the Kingdom of God. It is the very Church that, by growing together with the “Marian seed” in its bosom, recognizes the gentle presence of Mary everywhere the Church herself is present: in her past, transformed in the Sacred Tradition; in her eschatological future, in her eternal evangelical present; but above all in the heart of humankind, in the heart of every person.

“Being mediatrix between God and mankind, she made God the Son of man, but she made every human creature a child of God” (St. Gregory Palamas).{footnote}St. Gregory Palamas. Omilia 53. (Ed. Russa. vol. 3, 88. Montréal, 1984).{/footnote}

Tradition: The Memory of Mary

One can say that the heart of Mary is the heart of the very Church; the Gospel points this out very clearly: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” (Lk 2:19-51). The meditation of Mary is, in fact, her mediation. God sends his message, and the “Good News” that once more becomes flesh in the heart of Mary, is transformed in the chamber of the memory of what God reveals. It is like the seed of silence transformed into words. By means of the silent words held in the heart of Mary, we can also hear the same message from God; the message about the Mother of God as well as the message given by the Mother. The root of tradition develops, not so much from the voices of the people, but above all by the great silence of the heart of Mary who gives life to the Word.

Thus, the “remembrance” of Mary becomes the beginning and the deposit of ecclesial memory. To the extent in which the memory of the Church is developed and manifested in our consciousness, we will begin to hear the words of Jesus, the words that Mary preserved and kept in her heart. Every generation of the faithful possesses all the richness of the past, of the revelation of Christ which is repeated, not only in his Word, but in continuing growth, while remaining faithful to its original identity. The preservation of this identity, the Tradition of the Church, is the “remembrance,” but a remembering filled by the same Spirit that filled Mary. Vladimir Lossky, in his essay called “Panaghia,” dedicated to Mary, finds the foundation of the very principle of the Church, the Tradition of the Church, in the Marian heart, in the “remembrance” of Mary.

If Christ is preached on the rooftop, if he is proclaimed so that everyone may come to know him in the teaching presented to the whole world, then the mystery of the Mother of God opens itself to the inner core of the Church, to the faithful who receive the Word of God. … This is not only the object of our faith, but it is something more; it is the fruit of faith, matured into Tradition.{footnote}See Lossky. “Panaghia” (Tuttasanta). According to the Image and the Likeness, Mosca, 1995, p. 182 (Russian).{/footnote}

The fruit grown by the seed of Marian silence, sown in the memory of the Church, is, above all, the “remembering,” the “recognition” of the very person of Mary. We carry inside of us this “remembering” like a seal, a fingerprint of the Word, of the same Word that Mary utters as Mother of Christ and of all the living-Mary prefiguring the Church, Mary like the image of the soul that gives birth to the Lord. The fruit of silence becomes the voice of the Church, the voice of a “remembering” Church, a Church that recognizes, and a Church that transforms her silence into the word of faith.

Certainly in the Gospel Mary does not always remain silent. She talks to the angel who comes to her with his announcement, “she ‘magnifies’ the Lord within her soul,” she asks Jesus to help the poor family at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. But she talks little and keeps quiet a lot. At the foot of her Son’s Cross she doesn’t utter a word. She is also silent at the hour of Jesus’ death and after the news of his Resurrection. She continues to keep quiet at the moment of the Holy Spirit’s descent, when everybody else begins to talk. Therefore, if the gift given to the others was the gift of tongues, the gift of Mary, the greatest of all, was the gift of “prayerful silence.”{footnote}Emilianos Timiadis. Invito al silenzio. Torino, 1977.{/footnote}

In the silence of the Cross, Jesus speaks his last words to his Mother and to John, the beloved disciple: “Son, here is your Mother,” “Woman, here is your son. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:27). And in his very home, in the habitation of Mary’s silence, immersed in the maternal mystery, after many years of the invisible work that was being done in his heart, John says, with perhaps the most beautiful words about God that man could have ever said: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1). Yes, this witnessing of Mary is silent, but her silence speaks, her silence carries and touches the Word of life. Her presence is hidden here, but who can make a statement like this, who can pronounce these words with a heart fuller than that of John’s, “Life made itself visible” and “we have seen“? The testimony of John is like a transmutation into the hidden words in the heart of Mary. Wasn’t it Mary herself who made visible this life? Wasn’t she the instrument for which this Word was made audible?

“And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” But John isn’t only the beloved disciple who gives his testimony. John stays always in the same house; this is another image of the Church in communion with Mary, in the silence of Mary, in the love of Mary. And it was John himself who, from his Marian silence, spoke these other piercing words about God, “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16).

Mary, the Church

“We have come to know…” and this “knowing” of John embraces and unites all of us, the faithful. It comes from the heart of Mary. But she stands removed, she lets other people do the talking. John speaks, Peter speaks, Paul speaks. Scriptures talk and the Church talks; but each one of their words is as if drenched in the mediation of Mary.

St. John’s “coming to know love,” as well as St. Ignatius’ becoming aware of the “three incredible mysteries” a few generations later, reveal another mystery that unites Mary with the Church. The Church hears the Word in the silence of Mary, receives the love of God from the hands of Mary, and “recognizes herself” in Mary; the Church also remembers Mary in all her prophetic “prefigurations” which we find in Scripture. The ecclesial memory or “remembrance” always goes back to its source in the heart of Mary.

We find her in the narration of creation as the “virgin land,” in the image of the Garden of Eden, in the story of Eve who became “the mother of all the living” because Mary is destined to become the New Eve. We sense her discrete presence in the ark of Noah and in the heavenly ladder of Jacob, but above all we see her in the burning bush because Mary herself becomes the receptacle of the “Fire,” that “Fire” which the entire earth cannot contain. In the crossing of the Red Sea we recognize the virginal birth of the Word, in the hymn of the sister of Aaron we hear the echo of the “Magnificat.” Also in the dwelling, and in the glory of the Lord which filled the dwelling, we already recognize the vision of Mary’s glory. We recognize the figure of Mary in Anna’s canticle in the Psalms. We meet her in the uncreated Seat of Wisdom, we confess her as spouse in the Song of Songs, and finally, in the words of Isaiah we hear her prophesied, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).

The Church in the commemoration of Mary recognizes herself in Mary, because the remembrance that lives in the Holy Spirit-or Tradition-continues through time. Therefore, faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, which the Church confesses from the beginning, finds its fulfillment, its fullness, only when enlightened by the mystery of Mary.

The Church, in her knowledge of Mary figured as “Odighitria,” “Succorer,” “Mother of the Afflicted,” “Joy of All Creation” and so on, finds the avenue to her own mystery. “Mary is the archetype and the personification of the Church, body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit.”{footnote}Alexis Kniazev. The Mother of God in the Orthodox Church. Saint Paul, MN. 1993, p. 89.{/footnote} With the words kept in the heart of Mary, the Holy Spirit that lives in her keeps reminding the Church of everything that Jesus said (cf. Jn 14:26) and everything that Jesus continues to tell us, even today. Tradition is the uninterrupted Word. But this dimension of the “sanctified remembrance” is tied to another one, to that of sacrifice. Christ is an offering of God to humanity, but an offering that we receive as a gift from Mary. Mary herself, as well, is above all the gift that humanity gives of itself to God, the most precious gift, the fruit of a long maturation in the embrace of grace.

“What can we offer you, O Christ?” sings the Orthodox Church at the Christmas vigil, “Heaven offers you the angels, earth brings you her gifts, but we, humankind, offer you the Virgin-Mother.”

In the writings of the early Fathers we find the idea of a reciprocal thirst which unites God and man; we find the idea of God’s walk towards humankind and the walk of humankind towards God. The story of humanity is the very long vicissitude of the place of this encounter. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you,” we hear Isaiah’s cry (Is 64:1). But God came down in secret and in peace. The womb of the daughter of Zion was the place of his encounter with humankind. And from the moment of this encounter a new light falls all over Scripture. The Word of God becomes a string of “icons” that foresees the coming of Mary as the one who carries within herself the mystery of the definite encounter of God with humanity. Mary was chosen as the last stopping place in the long walk of the Word toward man. The Church of the Word was revealed and became fully realized in Mary, in her body, in her heart, in her faith. And so it was also in the faith of her saints and martyrs.

No matter; says one of them, how crazy the world can get and raise a turbid wave upon what we have that is most sacred and pure, we are certain that the sacred mysteries will triumph, because our sinful earth is marked by the footprints of the only Pure One. No matter how much the Church will undergo persecution, it cannot be overcome, because the Mother of God is the heart of the Church, and this heart is cloaked in the sacred mystery of divine love. This sacred mystery is the source of our rebirth, the triumph of eternal life.{footnote}Father Anatolij Jurakovsky (1897-1937), Russian priest-martyr who died during the great persecution of the 1930s. Cited in “Ave Joy of All Creation,” Torino, 1988, p. 178.{/footnote}

For, “Mary is the archetype and the personification of the Church, body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit” (F. Alexis Kniasev).

Mary, the Faith

St. Clement of Alexandria says, “Only one Virgin-Mother exists, and according to my point of view no better name can be suited to her than the name Church.”{footnote}Henry de Lubac. Meditation on the Church. Jaca Book. Milano, 1979, p. 239.{/footnote}

Mary, by herself, because of her ever-living faith, built the Church of Jesus, and during the long vigil of that Saturday while Christ was resting in the Sepulcher, the entire life of the Mystical Body was gathered in her, almost as if to look for refuge in her, as if the Body were in its own heart.{footnote}Pedagog, 1, c.6; PG 8, 300.{/footnote}

From the very heart of Mary the infant Church was also trying to understand herself and her own faith. The first Christian generations who lived in the mystery of Mary, who possessed the strong sense of her protection, of the fullness of the Holy Spirit within her being, had not yet put together a “Mariology.” The hold of dogmatic consciousness of Mary’s role and of her presence became more deeply rooted by means of necessity, born in the discussion with the many opposers of a Christocentric faith. For this reason the mystery must be lived, not only in liturgical glorification or in the profession of faith, but also in reasoning that deals with the mystery as if it were precious stone and takes it apart, cutting facets on it with human rationality.

There is more: dogmatic knowledge is developed, keeps going ahead, but in the end it goes back towards the source of knowledge, towards the remembrance hidden in the heart. True knowledge is in fact gratitude, because it springs from love; and it is also recognition because it derives from veiled memory. The Church, therefore, by developing her vision of Mary, always arrives at the truth of faith already known, because she carries it within herself from the very beginning, the truth already lived by her saints and her martyrs: Mary is the Mother of God, Mary is always Virgin, Mary is Mother of humankind. This truth is only born by the “intelligent contemplation” of the mystery of the incarnate Word.

It is in this manner that St. Justin, philosopher and martyr, discovers the analogy, which becomes classical, between Mary and Eve, because Mary was already present in the remembrance of Eve:

Eve … while still virgin and incorrupt, conceived the word of the serpent and gave birth to disobedience and death. Mary, the Virgin, on the contrary, when the Angel Gabriel brought her the happy news that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, accepted it with faith and joy … and for this reason the Holy One born of her would be the Son of God. And she responds with the following words, “Be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).{footnote}Dialogue with Trifon the Jew, 100, PG 6, 712. See Marian texts … p. 137.{/footnote}

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in his fight against Gnosticism, the heresy of the second century after Christ, a heresy that shows its vitality even nowadays, speaks of Mary as the Mother of the Word of God. The Gnostics diluted the Christian faith by separating the Word and Jesus. “The Jesus of the economy” of which they speak, passed, they say, through Mary like water passes through a pipe.{footnote}Against Heresies, III, 11 3 PG 7, 882.{/footnote}

Two centuries later the idea of separation finds its form in Nestorius’ doctrine. He said something very simple, and according to him something very logical: the Word of God did not need nine months of development in order to be born of Mary. That is, God used Mary as his “instrument,” and Mary as Mother of God simply does not exist.

The Council of Ephesus, which condemned Nestorius, expressed the mystery of the union of the human and of the divine having taken place in the womb of Mary as the foundation of the salvific work of God. “According to the concept of the Council of Ephesus,” says the Orthodox theologian, Alexis Kniasev, “we are acknowledging the holy Virgin as Theotókos (Mother of God) since the Word of God became incarnate and was made man and since the Word united to himself, from the very beginning and by means of that very conception, the temple undertaken by her.”{footnote}Alexis Kniasev, p. 84.{/footnote}

The term “Theotókos” is not a small part of dogmatic Mariology-it is at the very center of the vision of Mary, or rather, it is “Marian wisdom” finding its rational formula. Only as Mother of God can Mary also become Mother in an ontological and soteriological sense. “The mystery of the divine maternity reaches far beyond the personality of the Mother of God and is revealed like a fundamental mystery of Christ’s salvific work. She receives and introduces the Savior as well as salvation to humankind.”{footnote}Ibid. p. 89.{/footnote} And as the Mother of the Incarnation she is also Mother of all humanity in its walk towards God. The decision of the Council of Ephesus remains, for the Orthodox Church, a definitive boundary of the last facet that separates true spiritual knowledge, salvific and rooted in the mystery, from erroneous and illusory avenues. This is like a foundation stone upon which Christocentric piety is based. The sense of the conciliar decision is: the truth about Christ casts a light on the truth about his Mother as well, and only this light can nourish our soul with the correct faith, rooted in Christ, conceived in Mary.

The term “Theotókos” is apophatic as well. It contains the whole truth about the divine maternity, a truth, however, “folded” into the mystery, wrapped in the non-knowledge. The light that comes from Mary’s maternity in not always “decipherable” with precise formulae. And the Orthodox Church defines this apophatism. This light continues to live and grow in the Church, but its “development,” according to Orthodoxy, is not dogmatic or purely rational, but is existential, which manifests itself in the history of the sanctity lived by the saints. The Holy Spirit allows the development of the truth about Mary and of Mary to be manifest in the experience of the saints, in the common remembrance of the People of God, where the word “Theotókos,” while safeguarded in its infant and conciliar nucleus, becomes filled with new meanings that are brought about through a prayer-filled life pervaded by the presence of the Mother.

And this presence is the language of divine love that speaks with the soul, in the silence, a presence that also keeps looking for its liturgical expression.

Ave, torment of the invisible enemies,

Ave, key to the doors of heaven,

Ave, bond of joy from heaven to earth,

Ave, as the earth exults with the sky,

Ave, from the unceasing lips of the apostles,

Ave, invincible courage of martyrs,

Ave, firm assertion of faith,

Ave, luminous knowledge of grace,

Ave, for whom hell is destroyed,

Ave, of whose glory we are blinded …

(Akathist to the Most Holy Mother of God)

The art of the akathist is that of recognition. The heart (of humankind, of the singing community, of the Church) recognizes the different faces of its joy of loving or of being loved by the Mother of God, the joy of singing its faith with her or the joy of simply being near her. We can see the definitions multiplying themselves in the expressions of joy and exuberance; the akathist, as a liturgical form, is an act, or rather, it is the river of knowing that does not become rigid through the dogmas that have been defined, a river which has its value in the very flowing of the confession of faith as a state of mind that takes life from its own singing. This casting, this musical flowing, has its origin in the only definition of Mary “recognized,” praised in the role of Theotókos, and it goes back to the same source. The divine maternity is like a fountain of “the essence of being ecclesial,” of the Church, who, in her praying, finds her definition in Mary.

But the prayer born in the heart of the Church also creates the truth in the Church, truth in the two following aspects: Christological and Mariological; the truth in two senses: existential and dogmatic. Certainly, not every word of our liturgical usage can expect to claim a definitive truth. At times it expresses nothing but our search, our intuition or conjecture, a bursting out of the soul. But also in this case, when the search is done along the trail of authentic Tradition, prayer brings with it the witnessing of its truth, a truth not completely perfect, but the truth of that “indistinct vision” (1 Cor 13:12), characteristic of humankind, or the hypothetical truth that can also be rejected. However, in the Orthodox Church this rigid confinement between faith and its devotional expression, upon which Newman insists at the beginning of his letter to Pusey about Mary, does not exist.{footnote}See Newman. Maria, Milano, 1993.{/footnote} Faith, having its solid structure in its dogmatic foundation becomes open and constantly recognizes itself in its prayer; faith in turn, “becomes aware” of the moment of truth in the Spirit through the praying community.

Only the Church, the expansion of Christ’s human nature, can hold the fullness of Revelation; if a book were to be written about it not even the entire world would be able to contain it. Only the Mother of God, chosen to contain God in her womb, can fully realize all that is connected to the event of the Incarnation of the Word, which, at the same time, is the secret of her divine maternity.{footnote}See Lossky, Ibid., p. 176.{/footnote}

But there is yet another aspect of Mary’s mediation, the pneumatological one. In the Church’s conscience every dogma is like a seal of the Holy Spirit upon the human mind, the rational icon of the same Holy Spirit. The definition of Mary as Mother of God is the act of self-consciousness of ecclesial faith and the manifestation of the Spirit. The birth of dogmatic knowledge is like the conception of the Word. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35). But the Spirit also comes to give life to the Word in our soul, that is, to faith. Faith is the fruit of the descent of the Spirit, and Mary is always the first image of faith, its icon, its mother giving birth to faith itself.

In other words: If Christian faith has a face, this face is the one of Mary, the icon of the Church.

“Crown of dogmas,” Mary sheds light on the Trinitarian mystery reflected in the human: “You have given birth to a son without a father, this Son who was born of the Father without a mother” (the dogmatic, third tone). To the paternity of the Father in the realm of the divine corresponds, in the realm of the human, the maternity of the Theotókos; the image of the maternal virginity of the Church. And it is Cyprian who exclaims, “One cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother.”{footnote}Pavel Evdokimov. Orthodoxy, Bologna, 1981, pp. 212-213.{/footnote}

Mary, the Soul

The center of Christian faith is always Jesus Christ, because “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved,” as St. Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles (4:12). But in our most intimate, deeper life with God the mystery of Mary always walks along with the mystery of Christ (and of the Trinity), just as silence walks along with the Word. The roots of Mary’s veneration are centered in the faith and in the love of her Son, “the true light that enlightens every human being.” But, in its own simplicity and transparency, the light that enlightens us also carries within itself the maternal presence. Among the people this light takes on the “material” substance of this world. And the light’s first “matter” was the womb and the heart of its Mother. The light comes clothed in an obscure and unfathomable mystery, it comes as a message, the Good News; it comes as a person, as the face of Christ back to us, but it also comes as the purity of the Virgin, as tenderness and protection, intercession and love. All these are the “substances” of the Word that speaks to the soul, that enters the soul and, in a primordial manner, becomes flesh in the soul as well as in the Church.

“Every soul that believes, conceives and gives birth to the Word of God; according to faith, Christ is the fruit and all of us are mothers of the Christ,” says St. Maximus the Confessor.{footnote}St. Maximus the Confessor. Chapters on Love. Works, Moscow, 1995. (Russian).{/footnote}

Mary, the Mother

Christian faith is founded on the Word, is nourished by the Word, but cannot be reduced exclusively to the Word. Because faith is the Word we feel and sense in our heart, in the depth of our silence, the silence we feel at the depth of the Word. And the Word gives life and life enters into our heart. The Word has a Mother and the Mother brings the Word to us. Mary lived all this fully in her maternity.

“In the Mother of God is affirmed eternal maternity, no longer restricted to only the Nativity alone,” says the Russian martyr Maria Scobtzova; because the “maternity is an indication of love.”{footnote}Maria Scobtzova. “Ave, Terra trafitta dalla Croce” in “Ave, gioia di tutto il creato.” Gribaudi. Torino. 1988.{/footnote} She reveals, according to the word of the great theologianFather Serge Boulgakov, the secret “maternity of God,” because the love of God also has a discreetly feminine face. Love is expressed in the Son, but the Son is also the One who saves and who judges, the One who awaits us at his tribunal. But God sends Mary “before” the judgment so she may intercede for all sinners. God lives his Passion on the Cross, but also his compassion for all those who suffer and whom his Mother carries in her heart.

Another secret revealed to us by Mary is that of the Church. There is an intimate