THE MOTHER OF GOD
The Orthodox world, especially the Russian Orthodox world, venerates the Virgin Mary and prayerfully calls on Her help.
The largest number of churches in Rus’ are dedicated to the Mother of God and to various events in Her life.
The largest number of venerable icons — are likewise icons of the Mother of God. There is not a single church service, in which Her name is not mentioned nor in which the Church fails to beseech Her for the salvation of the faithful. And finally, beyond the purely church matters of life, the whole of ancient Russian writing was pervaded by thought about the Virgin Mary.
The Russian people ultimately adopted Her as their own, vitally, into their lifestyle. The everyday mentality is profuse with thought about Her.
There exists the expression, that the Russian Land is an appanage allotted to the Birthgiver of God. This expression appears not only as a literary expression, but rather reflects a certain aspect of the genuine essence of the Russian Land and the Russian people. In its sanctity and in its sinfulness, in like degree, it does not elude the Birthgiver of God, it encounters Her image, some visible sign or being termed, “that this one is of our sort”, — as it was with St. Seraphim of Sarov, or is brought to repentance through Her.
The “Travails of the Birthgiver of God” — is a secular saying, not a churchly one. In it is vividly reflected the attitude of the Russian people to the Mother of God. In its own extreme travails it is with Her, and Her image defines its inner core, its soul.
One might make bold to say, that the Orthodox faith is inseparably connected not only with the Name of Christ, but also with the Name of His Mother. If somehow it were possible to remove from the Orthodox Church everything, connected with the Mother of God, then it would be not only some sort of a different church, but it would simply cease to be a church. In other words, the veneration of the Mother of God in Orthodoxy — is of its innermost essence, inseparable from it, and to a remarkable degree — definitive of it.
Whosoever would desire to understand the hidden meaning of the Russian national soul, has to understand the nature of Orthodoxy.
And whosoever would desire to discover Orthodoxy fully and completely, has to come face to face with this, — how it is that the Orthodox Church venerates the Mother of God. And only having found this clue, this key, does it become possible to unlock the hidden secrets of the Russian people. But anyone, who desires to follow such a perfectly unavoidable and correct path, in order to understand the Russian national soul and become familiar, how the “Virgin Birthgiver of God” doth live, — at the very start of its task is brought face to face with a very essential difficulty.
What it involves is this, that the Orthodox Church does not have an all comprehensive dogmatic definition about the Mother of God.
The first impression of this unanticipated fact would as it were seem to contradict the assertion, that Orthodoxy, to a remarkable degree, is defined by its veneration of the Mother of God.
But in actual fact, it is an inaccurate impression. While not having a dogmatic definition of the Mother of God, Orthodoxy nonetheless abounds with liturgical prayers, comprehensively so of the Orthodox attitude to the Mother of God.
The Liturgy, and an endless multitude of citations from the fathers of the Church, and iconography, and a very vital assimilation of the image of the Mother of God — all provide quite sufficient material, in order to have in view all the basic features of attitude towards her in the Orthodox Church and all the whole Russian people. And from this assimilation can be drawn inferences, to a large degree definitive of the mystical path of the Russian people and its varied manifestations in historical activity.
The first thing, that must obviously be established as the initial point of departure in the position of the Orthodox teaching — is the denial of any personal sin in the Mother of God. The absence of personal sin in the Mother of God is affirmed by all the Church fathers who wrote about this. It should suffice to offer some several examples.
Thus, for example, writes Gregory: “Mary, just as in body, so also in soul, hath been fore-cleansed by the Holy Spirit”. And in Ephrem the Syrian we read: “Thou, O Lord, and Thine Mother, Ye alone art perfectly holy in every regard, since in Thee, O Lord, is no defilement, and in Thine Mother is no defilement”.
And St. Ambrose: “The Virgin, by grace free of any sin”.
A rathermost precise and full opinion was expressed in the words of John Damascene: “The Holy Spirit issued forth upon the pure Virgin and cleansed yet further. The Pure One, as regards particular condition of soul and body, was rendered the All-Pure by the Creator’s omnipotent activity, having wrought of Her His vessel by the Life-Creating, purifying, renewing, transformative and recreative Spirit of God. The Pure Virgin was rendered the All-Pure, free of any defilement in thought or sense, rendered by grace the pure, spirit-bearing, Divine Virgin”.
This opinion of the holy fathers is grounded not only in the direct religious experience of every believer, unable to imagine evident any personal sin of the Mother of God, but likewise also there is the whole Gospel testimony, in which it is impossible to find the slightest hint of any evidence of sin with the Mother of God.
We can but precisely examine all the quite scant accounts about Her in the Gospel, and they all confirm the correctness of the expressed thought. About the full sinlessness of the Mother of God in Her birth, childhood, adolescence, in the Annunciation, in the becoming Mother of God, in the standing at the Cross, at the Pentecost, and at the Falling-Asleep of the Uspenie-Dormition, — all Her life, — the Orthodox Church teaches about in all its divine-services, devoted to the Mother of God.
The Church terms Her “the Holy of Holies”. “Heaven inspired”. “Temple of all kings and thrones”. “Alone undefiled”. “Existant Divine temple from pure infancy”. “Prior of all ages fore-ordained Mother and in this latest age manifest the Birthgiver of God”.
All this witnesses so very decisively and persuasively, but there can even appear doubts — whether or no the Mother of God as “Alone-sinless” is somehow on a par to Jesus Christ.
These doubts especially can strongly arise with those, who have to a certain degree a Protestant trend of thought and, not having devoted themselves to an exact accounting and examination of these titles, employed by the Church, they tend to accept them only in the context of a certain literal embellishing. But all this mustneeds be examined more precisely.
In accord with His Divine origin, Christ was not only without personal sin, but also without original sin. He appeared only in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8: 3). Not under subjection to original sin, He was also not under subjection to death: “For death could not hold him captive” (Acts 2: 24).
In the Mother of God, however, on the contrary, the original sin retains all its power, — with its consequences, — of infirmity and mortality. She died a natural death on the basis of the law of original sin. And Her death was overcome by Her Son, Who therefore also for Her was the Saviour, delivering Her from the consequences not of personal sin, which She had not, but from original sin. In like manner, the sinlessness of the Mother of God relates not to Her nature, but to Her personal condition. Her nature however, in the sense of subjection to the curse of original sin, — is in common with the nature of all mankind.
This herein is a basic element of the Orthodox teaching about the Mother of God, very important that it be established correctly. And in order to understand, how it is possible to reconcile the action of original sin with the personal sinlessness of the Mother of God, it is necessary to examine further the Orthodox teaching about original sin.
Man is created in the image and likeness of God, i.e. in other words, prior to sinfulness he was endowed with a certain measure of perfection, proper to him organically — by virtue of God’s design concerning him. And since “death God hath not created” and everything created by God “was exceedingly good”, and sin also was not something created, — then also the first man prior to the Fall manifested the fullness of the image of God in the creation: in this image of God was constituted the fundamental fullness of human nature, its inviolability, its ontological incommensurateness to sin and death. The createdness of man was a determinative factour only in the instability of this condition. But ultimately it was only the image and likeness of God inherent in man that determined and allowed for the Incarnation of God. It is quite impossible to think in terms of the Incarnation of God prior to the primordial impairment, resulting in the sinfulness and mortality of human nature, manifest such as though in accord with the initial designs of the Creator.
Although sin and death both be possible in man, they are in this regard for him something non-normal, contrary to nature, the consequence of the original sin having impaired his nature.
With sin, and inseparably connected with it, there entered into the world death, and it distorted the nature of man, it obscured the image of God given within man. In this sense also is the mystery connected with original sin and the whole of human history, consequent upon it. After the Fall into sin there begins a new world era, and the condition of the world comes “under a different law, existing in our members, — the law of sin” (Rom. 7:23).
Suchlike a significance of original sin, manifest as a curse for all mankind, and not only for Adam, who committed it, — derives from the metaphysical concept of the oneness of mankind. Outside the understanding of mankind as somehow an unity, in the understanding of it merely as the chance sum total of individual people comprising it, — it becomes impossible to understand, in what manner that which transpired with Adam should have resulted likewise for all, save that all his descendants possess an oneness of nature.
And outside this concept of the oneness of mankind there is likewise completely unthinkable either the Incarnation of God, or the salvation of all mankind by the personal sacrifice of the God-Man, or even the existence of one Church. And finally, likewise unthinkable from this unity would be inclusion of the Mother of God.
Only insofar as we admit of the consequences of original sin for each man and for all mankind, can we in turn accept the redemptive sacrifice of Christ for each man and for all mankind.
Just as the objective effects of the original sin are discernible as an infirmity of nature, as mortality, so likewise is the original sin to be discerned in the Mother of God. But, having in Herself all the effect of original sin as infirmity, in this She shares the common lot of mankind, She remains free from all personal sin, from any sharing in the committing of it. The infirmity, as the common lot of mankind, remains unattainable and out of reach for surmounting by mere human power. It is conquerable only by the power of the Incarnation of God. This otherwise can be expressed thus: the original sin remains unremovable and unconquerable by any sort of human sanctity, this entirely relates also to the Virgin Mary, so that the fundamental meaning of Her exploit consists in this, that She truly indeed is human, and in Her humanity is all the mystery of Her service.
But also amidst the effects or original sin remaining in force, there is a personal freedom from sins such as can be bestown by Divine grace. And by it in full measure was endowed the Virgin Mary.
Such in short is the Orthodox teaching about the Mother of God.
In sum total it can all be expressed thus: The Mother of God by the power of Her personal freedom and by the grace of the Holy Spirit is completely free from all personal sin throughout all Her entire life. Original sin had in Her the effect only the infirmity of human nature, and in this sense She shares the lot of Her nature in common with all mankind.
Such in general is the voice of the Church, relating to the veneration of the Mother of God. But, as was said earlier, Orthodoxy does not possess a dogmatically precise expressed formula on this question. Can one, even though it be through motives most devout and most reverent to glorify the Mother of God, — can one attempt deny Her sharing in original sin? No, it is impossible. And it is impossible not only from this, that the event of Her Falling-Asleep Uspenie-Dormition, Her natural death points to this, that She too bore the consequences of this sin in Herself, — i.e. the mortality manifest as this consequence, — but still moreover on other grounds.
It is impossible to ascribe to the Mother of God any sort of a special origin, dissimilar to the origin of all mankind. This would signify Her emergence out beyond the bounds of all the human race, — in other words, — it would negate the possibility of the Incarnation of God, of the Son of God truly becoming man, and it would distort the meaning of the existence of the Old Testament Church, as it were blotting out its messianic vocation and the deeds of God’s People Israel.
The assertion that the Virgin Mary does not share in original sin substitutes by replacing the unified process of the Divine design and oeconomia, in which there is no place for chance, — with a Divine capriciousness, a Divine arbitrariness. This assertion introduces chance-accident and the arbitrary into the very centre of Christian teaching, it negates any possibility of making sense of the fate of the world and mankind, since it tears apart and away from mankind not only the Mother of God, but also the Son of Man Christ the Saviour. Herein, if this be granted, events would lose whatever their connection and organicity. In place of a cosmic, inevitable and needful character, there would instead begin to obtain a character of the accidental capriciousness of the course of incidental circumstances.
Moreover, the assertion that the Mother of God was free from original sin gives only the appearance of Her being most glorious, whereas in actual fact, such a dealing with the question diminishes and negates all Her personal merit in the sinlessness of the Mother of God. And it is because that the absence of original sin would in effect free man from every human inclination to sin. The sinlessness of the Mother of God would have been bestown Her as a gift. She thus would have been provided an immunity as regards to sin, an immunity against sinning.
The exemption of the Mother of God from being under the grip of original sin would exclude and set Her apart from all the rest of mankind, and by this it would in essence diminish and negate the meaning and the mystery of the incarnation of God. Suchlike would be the fatal consequences of the incorrect understanding of the relationship of the Mother of God to the fate of all mankind. To think these matters out to their logical end — means to uncover their fallaciousness and to pass over to the assured affirmation of the Orthodox Church, which consists in faith in the personal sinlessness of the Mother of God and Her sharing in being under the curse of original sin.
But even these correct assertions can be subjected to yet further developement, in the sense of uncovering all the consequences deriving from it. And herein is the quite boundless possibility of the application of this teaching to the most varied mysteries of the world.
But before moving on to such things, it is necessary still to discern, what sort of special meaning the Church attributes to the veneration of the Mother of God.
The feastdays of the Birthgiver of God reveal various moments in the life of the Virgin Mary, depicting as it were the steps along Her earthly path. And suchlike thus are the feastdays: Her Nativity, the Entry into the Temple, the Annunciation, the Nativity of Christ, Pentecost, the Uspenie-Dormition, the Pokrov-Protection.
One of the most central of the feastdays of the Birthgiver of God is, certainly, the Annunciation, when even “the bird plaits not its nest”. It is, in essence, an already accomplished becoming of the Mother of God, in all that this signifies. In it is revealed the mystery of the limitless sanctity of the Virgin Mary, so that only within the context of this sanctity could She ultimately assert concerning Herself the words: “Behold the Handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto Me according to Thine words”. With these words She accomplished a fullness of the receiving of the Holy Spirit, leading to the Birth of Christ, “from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary”.
In the Annunciation, in the mysteried descent of the Holy Spirit upon man, upon the Virgin Mary, there was a theosis-deification of human nature in the person of the Mother of God.
Within the Annunciation was rooted both the hidden beginnings of the Incarnation of God, whereof that “the Word became flesh”, and also in the significance of the Mother of God in the world, in creativity, the possibility of which has a central and decisive significance for the fate of the world and the creation.
The whole depth of this mystery can be understood, only if ultimately there be accepted the absolute perfecting, namely, of the human nature of the Virgin Mary. Her inseparability from the oneness of mankind, Her connection by nature with it leads to this, that in Her the whole creation in general comes to share in Her Mother-of-Godness.
Without this humanness of the Mother of God, Christ — would not be the Son of Man, — He would have in Himself no human nature, He would not lift it up with Him upon the Cross, nor transfigure it, nor deify it in His Ascension. And therein all at once would be destroyed all the bridges from man to his redemption within the mystery of the God-Man.
The Annunciation — this is the moment of the Conception-without-seed of Christ. It is important here to posit the only correct approach to the understanding of the seedless Conception. While affirming its miraculous aspect, in the sense of its especial manifestation of grace, we ought herein to deny that it is contrary to nature, which is to say, its non-humanness. It is supernatural, but it is not contrary to nature. It mustneeds be understood, that it was accomplished in a natural manner, in full accord with the laws of human nature yet unpolluted by sin.
It can be said, that over all the course of time transpiring since the Fall, this was a singularly true and sinless conception, a begetting without travail and not under the curse of sin.
Furthermore, — in the Annunciation was attained a full descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Mother of God. And the fullness of this descent certainly is singular: no one never in such measure received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, nor possessed the Holy Spirit within, nor was Its vessel, as was the Virgin Mary.
In the Annunciation the Virgin Mary becomes the Mother of God, and this signifies not only a temporal condition, but also a certain eternal aspect.
But amidst this, just as the Annunciation occurs within time, so also Her being the Mother of God developes and occurs within time. This explains further, why the Mother of God was not excluded from the necessity to participate together with the Apostles in the Pentecost, when the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given all the Apostles, and in their person to all the Church.
Pentecost, the manifest working of the redemption and salvation of Christ, setting aside the curse of original sin, — was as it were a christening of all the New Testament Church. And this necessity of the Pentecost namely also for the Mother of God confirms Her sharing in humanity and the human path, connected with original sin.
Only at the Pentecost, by the power of the deed of the Son and Saviour, was there for Her taken away the curse of old Adam, just as also for all the Apostolic Church.
The final and last of the feastdays of the Birthgiver of God, — is the Falling-Asleep of the Uspenie-Dormition. In essence, it comprises a final insight into the Orthodox teaching about the Mother of God and Her glorification. It reveals the basic and principal difference between the death of Christ and that of His Mother, providing us possibility yet once again to be persuaded of the full sharing of the Mother of God in the human lot.
The death of Christ was voluntary, but it was not by nature; as something contrary to nature, it could only be a forcibly violent death. The God-Man, by virtue of His origin, was free from original sin and therefore not subject nor liable to death. The powerlessness of death over Him was shown by His resurrection. Death “tried, but could not hold Him”. The Uspenie-Dormition of the Mother of God, on the contrary, was a true and legitimate death, which She was subject to in being human, human under the power of original sin. And therefore Her death was something natural, not forcibly violent. And Her death was conquered not by Her power, but by the power of Christ.
In the liturgical disclosures of the feast of the Uspenie-Dormition, irrespective of dogmatic formula, Orthodoxy holds to its teaching about the resurrection, the taking-up or Assumption to Heaven and the heavenly glorification of the Mother of God.
The taking-up Assumption of the Mother of God, Her departure from the world does not signify Her full withdrawal from it, the cessation of Her every connection with it. On the contrary, — in Her and with Her the world itself, — all the creation, — already is conjoined by resurrection.
The Mother of God in Her resurrected and glorified Body is already the perfected glory of the world, its resurrection. She is an all perfected creation ultimately deified in theosis, — God-begetting, God-bearing, God-receiving, — and therefore She is a spiritual focal point for all mankind, for all creation.
In Her glorification She becomes the Queen of Heaven, but the glory and the power, which She receives, is not inherent in Her in accord with Her human nature. This rather is an overshadowing by a Divine and graced life over the natural nature, to which this attribute by its nature is not of itself inherent. Therefore the boundless and heavenly power of the Mother of God, in its essence, appears derivative and conditional. But She is the Mediatrix between God and mankind, as a glorified and deified human person.
The Virgin Mary, in Whose person the human nature is lifted up and exalted becoming the Mother of God, by this very fact already manifests Her “more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”.
In such wise, within the Uspenie-Dormition of the Mother of God, human nature is glorified by the glorification in Her person. Furthermore, having been resurrected, deified and ascended to the right side of the Father, as the flesh of the Son, — human nature is glorified both in Him Himself, and in the person of His Mother.
The Mother of God is the glory of the world, a world glorified in God and of God, and in itself possessing and giving birth to God.
In the glory of the Mother of God was revealed the glory of the creation. But also in Her glory, Her reknown connection with the world remains unbroken. This is quite obviously apparent from those titles, which the Church gives the Queen of Heaven.
The Church calls Her the Lady Sovereign of the seas, of bread, of fragrant flowers, the Protectress of cities and realms, the Guardian of vegetative plants.
In the Mother of God is affirmed eternal motherhood, no longer restricted to only the Nativity alone.
And such a revealing of eternal motherhood in the world is seen in the feast of the Pokrov-Protection of the Mother of God. In it the already glorified Mother of God dwelling in the heavens as it were confirms Her eternal immanence to the world, and it shows a genuine act of motherhood in regard to the filial sonship of the world. And such in brief is the meaning of the feasts of the Birthgiver of God.
The teaching of Orthodoxy about the Mother of God conceals within it the possibility of a completely unique relationship to all the whole creation, — to the world, to mankind, — to the earth. In this regard there are some very demonstrative quotes from the holy fathers, leading us to the very heart of the Orthodox understanding of the teaching about the Mother of God. Hence:
Ireneius of Lyons says: “Just as first-created Adam received a body made of pure, yet virginal earth, and was formed by the hand of God, i.e. by the Word of God, — thus also in the Incarnation of God the Word the same thing was repeated. God the Word, in the restoring of Adam for Himself, condescended and was born after the likeness of restored Adam, since that He was born of Mary, a Virgin”.
Likewise in John Chrysostom we read: “This Virgin (i.e. the virginal earth) was in the image of the other Virgin. Just as this earth sprouted forth as paradise for us, not having received seed, so also She not knowing a man did grow forth Christ”.
And the Church sings: “For Thou art the paradise, O Birthgiver of God, whereof Christ hath grown”.
These liturgical texts and holy fathers literature amazingly corresponds with the organic lifestyle perception of the Mother of God. Particularly in connection with the mystery of the soil. The most precise, obvious and absolutely intimate expression of this thought for the Orthodox consciousness might be considered the words of Dostoevsky: “the Birthgiver of God — is damp mother earth”.
Certainly, such an explanation is inseparably connected with the perception of the Virgin Mary as the Mediatrix for the human race, unseparated from it, bearing upon Herself all its burdens and only overcoming these burdens by the power of personal effort.
The Orthodox teaching about the absolute freedom of the Mother of God from personal sin in full measure is consonant also with the feeling of reverence towards Her world-wide glorification.
But at the same time the assertion, that She in Her earthly life was under the dominion of original sin and only by the power of Her Son was She brought out from under its grip, as it were inseparably connects Her with the world, with all the whole creation.
In Her and through Her is revealed the ultimate fate of the world. She is manifest as the Mother of the world, the focal point of the creation.
After the Uspenie-Dormition, in Her resurrected and glorified body, She is the already accomplished glory of the world and its resurrection. By this is determined Her significance as Intercessor for the human race consubstantial with Her, and as Mediatrix between God and mankind, — in this context, that She is glorified, deified in theosis and human.
By this is determined, ultimately, the significance of the Mother of God at the Dread Last Judgement, where She will be the Intercessor for sinners. Only by the power of Her prayers can the sinful creature be forgiven, since that without Her intercession no creature is justified before the face of the Judge. Within Herself She exalts to God both mankind and all creation. And one mustneeds follow out this thought to its end.
This means, not sharing by Her nature in the Divinity, She is in communion with It through the grace of deifying theosis. It is from this that She is “the Queen of Heaven”, dwelling in the heavens with Her Son. It is from this that She is termed “more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”.
And thus, we glorify in the at-death fate of the Mother of God human nature glorified. Ultimately outside the resurrection it is deified in theosis and uplifted to the right hand of the Father, as the flesh of the son, — glorified in Him, and in the person of His Mother.
The Mother of God is the glory of the world, a world, glorified in God and of God and itself possessing and giving birth to God.
In the glory of the Mother of God is revealed the glory of the creation. And the glory namely is of all the whole creation, since that such an attitude towards the Mother of God defines not only faith in the deification-theosis of mankind, but also faith in the deification-theosis of all the whole world, the cosmos, the earth.
Only such an explanation negates all the chance capriciousness in the deed of the Virgin Mary and in the actual fact of Her selection by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It provides us opportunity to sense the ontological essence of the world. And the Nativity of Christ, incarnated by the motherhood of the Virgin Mary, bears in itself, certainly, features not only of an one-time transpired act, but rather features, from ages fore-seen, possessing an eternal nature perfected for all times — for eternity. In this regard the motherhood of the Virgin Mary quite co-incides with the God-manhood of the Saviour.
The aspect of the Mother of God as such belongs to the Incarnation of God, which having happened at one point in time, nonetheless preserves its effective power, — and hence in this sense is from the eternal.
For us in a certain measure it is customary to see the final end of the existence of earthly mankind in its attainment of God-manhood, — in the image of the God-Man Christ.
In essence however quite the same would be proper for the striving of mankind to realise in itself also the image of the Mother of God in the human aspect of Her Motherhood of God.
Just as the image of God in man is revealed and realised not only as the image of Christ, but also as the image of His Mother, so also in the earthly Church there is revealed not only the mystery of God-manhood, but also the mystery of Mother-of-Godhood. the Mother of God, having given Her human flesh to the Son, is manifest as a personal incarnation of the Church, of the Body, of the Flesh of Christ, and therefore the focal point of all the creaturely world. She is the point of conjunction of both creaturely and non-creaturely nature.
Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, She becomes the Mother of God — giving birth the Logos.
And this aspect of being the Mother of God — in Her and with Her — is the manifest inheritance of all the Church. In Her and with Her, Mother Church shares in this aspect of the Mother of God’s giving birth to God.
The Mother of God gave to the Son Her flesh, and She is His God-bearing and begetting flesh, through which the flesh of the world is brought to Him for salvation.
Here alone by whatever the paths there might be developed the perception of the image of the Mother of God in the Russian Orthodox mindset, as something relating to the earth, under the appellation “Udel-Appanage of the Birthgiver of God”. This title possesses truly a twofold meaning. Alongside the in effect preliminary command for a reverent veneration of the Mother of God within the bounds of Her “Udel-Appanage”, it possesses also a more profound significance: it demonstrates, that Russian Orthodoxy in an innate way has likened the Heavenly Mother of the human race to Mother-earth.
In this title is revealed the meaning of all the whole earth, of all the cosmos and creation. The whole creation is, in this sense, the udel-portion of the Birthgiver of God, and if Russia term itself such, as though an opposition of land and creation, then it points only to this, that it perceives its own inseparability from the Mother of God, its sharing of creaturely life in the heavenly glorification of the Mother of God. And from such a frame of reference it is inevitably necessary to draw even further conclusions. How in a practical and direct manner ought there to be reflected the immeasurable significance of the Mother of God for the Orthodox consciousness in its sensory mode of life? it would seem, that this can be revealed, only insofar as there is a deepening in approach to the Mother of God and to the God-Man, to the Church and to Christ, — in general to Motherhood and to Sonship.
In motherhood part of oneself becomes another life and yet there remains an inseparable bond with the original life. In incarnates an existence in oneself and in an other, but in an other separate from oneself. The Mother, cleaving to Her Son, surrenders Him to the world. The Mother already is not freed in Her Son and together with this is inseparably bound up in all His paths and with Him. In general, the choice, the decision, — belongs to the sonship and not to the motherhood. Motherhood is drawn along the Son’s path and as it were co-lives the Son’s path. In regard to sonship, motherhood is passive and cannot make the decisions. It only shares in the sonship’s decisions. The freely chosen suffering of the Son becomes for the Mother a suffering not freely chosen, but rather inevitably accepted. Motherhood is not active, but always responsive to the activity of sonship. Though, even in Her responsiveness, She cannot choose for Herself the decision.
In essence, motherhood can neither lead, nor conclude, but only accompany.
That which is spoken of concerning motherhood and sonship in general, has its own ultimate disclosing in the perfect motherhood and perfect sonship — in the mystery of the Mother of God and Christ.
The path of the Mother of God — is not Golgotha. In its final depths of personal consciousness it can be even more inevitable, since the Mother of God could not even pray, that She might avoid the bitter chalice of her path. She could only consign Herself to accept the Golgotha of Her Son.
This is not a voluntary suffering of death on the Cross, but rather the earlier foretold and unavoidable double-edged sword, piercing the heart.
And together with this, the perfect sonship of Christ could not spare His Mother and defend Her from the double-edged sword.
The fundamental meaning of the path of sonship, the sacrifice of the Son, — is the redemption of His Mother and in Her all the whole creation, damp mother earth. The Son of Man came into the world, in order to redeem His Mother, the motherhood of the world.
In such manner, the path of sonship — was the path of sacrifice for His Mother, and amidst this was that path, the piercing the heart of the Mother with the two-edged sword.
It might be expressed thus: creation in the person of the Mother of God stands at the Cross, but the creation is not upon the Cross. But amongst mankind motherhood and sonship is something both obvious and indissoluble. On the one side, mankind within its limits identifies with God-manhood, i.e. in other words, participating in the voluntary path of Golgotha, and freely it ought to choose to take up its own sacrificial deed, its cross. On the other side, it is redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, of the Son, it accompanies Him, co-suffers for Him, it is not crucified, but rather accepts the two-edged sword, i.e. it shares the maternal path of redemptive sacrifice by the Son.
In other words, — the whole mystery of mankind and its eternal ascent to the Father is symbolised not only in the deed of Christ, but also of His Mother, not only by the cross, but also by the two-edged sword.
In other words, — the world bears within itself the reflection not only of sonship, but also of motherhood, which ultimately finds expression in the inevitable Golgotha path of sonship, and in the inevitable double-edged sword path of motherhood, in the voluntary sacrifice and in the standing by the Cross.
The mystery of the Son is both a piercing of soul for His Mother, and Her salvation. The mystery of the Mother is the acceptance of the mystery of the Son. In this is an hidden meaning of the whole history of mankind. In such manner, the fundamental thing that can be said about the Mother of God, is this, that the Son is incarnated of Her. She accepts the double-edged sword of His path. She is deified in theosis in His glorification, i.e. She accepts in utmost measure the re-unification with Her Son, She covers all the world with Her Protection, signifying by this Her eternal sharing in His Creation, the Creation of the Only-Begotten, and is glorified in His Glory.
Monachina Maria (Skobtsova)
© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos
Pochitanie Bogomateri. “First Printing” in “Mat’ Maria (Skobtsova): vospominaniya, stat’i, ocherki”, Tom. I, YMCA Press, Paris, 1992, p. 109-126.