Journey to Orthodoxy:
Thoughts on Mary

by Thomas Katsampes

September 11, 2007

As I noted in my earlier post, I visited St. George's on Sunday. One thing that's nice about the Orthodox church is that following the service there is social hour where coffee and refreshments are served. It's a nice way to meet other parishioners.

I was talking to this lady who does not believe in the virginity of the Virgin Mary. I told her that's probably not something she would want to broadcast throughout a room full of Orthodox Christians. I further explained that while I do believe in the virginity of Mary (prior to the birth of Christ), I do not believe in the immaculate conception.

The immaculate conception is a Catholic teaching which holds that Mary was free from sin:

In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin. (Catholic Encyclopedia Online)

For what purpose is it taught that Mary was free from sin? Presumably, Mary had to be free from sin so that Jesus could be born without sin. But if that is the case, then why does Luke 1:47 say that Mary rejoices in God her Saviour? Those free from sin do not need a Saviour. Further, Romans 3:23 states that "...all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Note that St. Paul did not write, "all, except Mary mother of Jesus, have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

(By the way, it's appropriate and important to search the Scriptures in this manner to confirm our faith: "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." -Acts 17:10-11)

But let us set these aside for a moment and assume that Mary was sinless because otherwise she could not have given birth to sinless Jesus. Does it not follow, then, that Mary's mother also had to be without sin, so that she could give birth to sinless Mary, so Mary in turn could give birth to sinless Jesus? We can work this argument all the way back to Eve, who along with Adam, was the first sinner, and so we have a factual contradiction.

These are a few reasons I believe that although Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, Mary was also a sinner and thus needed a Saviour. Mary was probably a beautiful person, but that's of course neither here nor there.

I took my bachelor's degree at a Catholic school named Saint Mary's University. From the name of the school it's obvious that they put a lot of emphasis on Mary (the university is actually Marianist). There is probably a too much emphasis/veneration/worship of Mary in many Catholic quarters.

Is the role of Mary overemphasized in the Orthodox faith? Given that I'm just getting back into Orthodoxy, I can't really comment whether the Orthodox Church gives the role of Mary too much emphasis. Reading through what I could of the Divine Liturgy, it seems that Mary is given an appropriate, but not overbearing, place in the Liturgy.

It's certainly right to recognize that Mary was a good servant of God. For whatever reasons God had in mind, He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus from the foundation of the world.

It would be interesting if we had more evidence regarding the Lord Jesus' childhood years (from birth to about age 30) on earth (e.g. what did Jesus do when he was 16 or 17? Wouldn't His example have been a great one for today's teenage boys?) We just don't have much evidence beyond the incident when the 12-year-old Saviour is found teaching Jewish rabbis in the synagogue. For those who venerate Mary, it would be interesting to know what kind of a mother she in fact was. My guess is that she was like most other mothers in her culture at that time. I don't know why - apart from God's divine plan - Mary should have been chosen, but the fact is that she was.

Mary's example should certainly be revered, as with any of the other saints. I do not, however, believe in the divinity of Mary, i.e. Mary is not the fourth person of the Trinity. As with all of the saints, we pray for her intercession and I think it is sufficient to simply reflect on the example Mary provided to us and to try to learn from her understanding of God and goodness.

Journey to Orthodoxy
God Became Man and other thoughts
Thoughts on Mary
Visiting the Church
Returning to the Church
The Communion Question
Losing the Sense of the Sacred
Conversation with Fr. Tom
Icons and Worship
Differing Viewpoints
Can we truly know?
Faith and Works
Child Baptism