The Orthodox Christian Teaching
About the Life of
The Holy Theotokos,
The Holy Theotokos,
The Ever-Virgin Mary
"Thou, O Theotokos, wast chosen out of all ages and
generations to be the Mother of God in the saving incarnation.
Wherefore, we magnify thee with hymns..."
Ikos, Akathist to the Joy of Canada)
whole world was in the darkness of sin and separation from God. Satan
reigned in the world, and mankind was in bondage to the evil-one. The
only dim hope to be found was in the promise of God to the Jews, that a redeemer would be sent. The only light, faintly burning,
was in the words of the
Hebrew prophets about this promise.
these prophets, and through the life of the Hebrew nation, God was
preparing mankind so that those whose hearts were open could receive the promised Redeemer.
had chosen a proper time for His great promise to be fulfilled. He had also
chosen and prepared a very special woman through whom the fulfillment of this promise would come to pass. This woman was Mary,
the daughter of Joachim
and Anna. Here is the story of this special person, and of how God chose
God were going to become man, to be born on earth as we are, He would
have to choose a very special woman to be His mother on earth. This woman would have to be pure, holy and full of faith.
She would have to be consecrated and guided from her childhood for this great service.
selected the Virgin Mary. Like many of the Old Testament Prophets, she
was chosen from her mother's womb and, like the great prophets Isaac, Samuel and John the Baptist, she was consecrated by a
miraculous birth, in response
to her parent's fervent prayers.
very devout and God-loving couple, Joachim and Anna, lived in the city of
Nazareth. He was descended from the great King David and she was a descendant of the house of the first priest, Aaron.
and Anna reached old age, but they had no children. This made them
very sad, but they did not lose faith and hope, and they prayed to God for a child. Saints Joachim and Anna promised God that if
He would give them
a child, they would dedicate it to the service of God in the temple.
at one of the great holidays of Israel, Joachim brought a gift to the temple
in Jerusalem as an offering to God. But the chief priest refused to accept
saying that Joachim and Anna's childlessness was a sign of their unworthiness.
deep sorrow, Joachim went to the plains where his shepherds watched over
his flocks of sheep. There, he began to fast and pray with tears that the
Lord would deliver him and his beloved wife from their sorrow and give
them a child.
an angel appeared to Joachim and said, "Do not be sorrowful, God
has chosen you for a special service. Go home to your wife, and she will
have a child through whom the whole world will be blessed."
he heard these words, Joachim rose up and set out for home, glorifying
the meantime, Anna had heard what had happened to her husband in Jerusalem.
She wept bitterly in sorrow for her husband and for herself. Soon, however, she replaced her tears with prayer and
fasting. The Lord heard the prayers of His faithful servant. He sent his angel to Anna also. As she
was standing in
the garden of her home, her hands lifted to God in prayer, the angel
appeared before her and said: "Anna! Do not weep, for God has chosen you
for his service. You will have a child, a girl, who will be given grace
Through her, salvation will come into the world."
rejoiced in her soul and she gave glory to God for His great mercy. Now
she watched for her husband to return, and her tears of sorrow had became
tears of joy.
rushed home to tell Anna about the angel and his message. As soon as he
approached, Anna hurried out to meet her husband and to tell him of her own
vision. They tenderly embraced with deep love, and glorified God for everything.
promise of God was soon fulfilled and to the great joy of Joachim and Anna,
and all their relatives and friends, a daughter was born and they named her Mary. She was the one chosen to be the mother of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus
and Anna loved their daughter with their whole hearts, and they raised
her with tenderness and affection. They did not forget, however, that she
was a gift of God, and that they had promised to dedicate her to His
when Mary reached the age of three, Saints Joachim and Anna hurried to fulfill their promise to dedicate her to God and
give her over to His temple for her education. The righteous parents faced this moment with a
combination of sadness and great joy: sadness at parting with their only
child, but joy
at serving God. They were offering Him what He had given to them.
the appointed day, the parents of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by relatives
and maidens carrying lighted candles and chanting from the Psalms, led her to the Lord's temple. When the procession
arrived at the temple, the Chief Priest Zachary and several other priests came to meet it. To the
of everyone, the three year old girl began to walk up the fifteen steep stone
steps to the temple porch all by herself, as if led and helped by her
She did not stop until she reached the top step.
great ascent of the Holy Virgin to the temple was accompanied by the reading
of prayers and the chanting of Psalms by the priests. On the top step, she
was met by the chief priest. And then a strange thing happened. No one except the High Priest was ever permitted into the most
important part of the temple,
the "holy of Holies"; in fact even the chief priest could only
enter it once a
year on the "day of purification" and sacrifice. Now, however,
surprise, Zachary, inspired by the Holy Spirit, led the young maiden Mary into the innermost sanctuary of the
temple—into the "holy of Holies." Not only the people were amazed by this fact, but, as the
tells us in hymns, "The angels were amazed, seeing how she entered the
holy of Holies."
few years after Mary had been presented to God in the temple, her parents
reposed in the Lord, leaving her an orphan. Her childhood years were spent
living in the temple, serving God.
early in her life, Mary knew that she had been called to remain a virgin
and spend her whole life in God's service. When she reached the age of twelve, she could no longer live in the temple. The
chief priest and the rulers of the temple, hearing from Mary about her calling to remain a virgin for
prayed together and, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, they betrothed
Mary to an elderly uncle of hers. His name was Joseph and, like Mary herself, he was descended from the house of
King David. Joseph was already very elderly when he took the Virgin Mary to live in his house.
betrothed so that Joseph could provide for her and give her protection and
shelter, and take part in God's holy will. At the same time, she could
Joseph and his household.
the time God had chosen, the Holy Virgin was in her room praying and
working on her sewing. Suddenly, a great light filled the room and Mary
could see a
radiant angel standing before her. She became frightened and, dropping her yarn, she raised her hand as if to shield
herself from the bright light.
radiant angel spoke to her gently, and with love and reverence in his voice:
"Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Thou art blessed
this, Mary became confused and even more frightened. She thought,
"But I'm only a lowly sinner. How can this angel call me 'Full of grace'?"
the angel told Mary that she was the one chosen to give birth to the Saviour.
"But how can I give birth?" Mary answered. "I am a
angel assured Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come to you and the power
of the Most High God will shine over you." He told Mary that the
child she would
bear would be the Son of God, and that she would remain a virgin even after the child was born.
the Archangel Gabriel said this, Mary prostrated herself on the floor to pray
to God with tears.
Child who then appeared in her womb was truly God Who was becoming
man in order to save all people who would sincerely accept and follow Him. This is why we call the Virgin Mary
"Theotokos." "Theotokos" means, "the one who bore
angel told Mary of another miraculous birth: "Your relative
old woman who has never had any children, is now pregnant. God has healed her so that she and her husband can have a
child." This child was to be John the Baptist.
is important for us to note Mary's birth, like that of Isaak, the founder of
the holy nation, and Samuel, the purifier of the priesthood, and John the Baptist, forerunner of the Lord, was accomplished
by a miracle of healing and regeneration. For, as the wombs of their aged mothers were all healed and regenerated
so that they could bring forth new life, so the Church was healed by
Christ so that it, too, could be life-bearing. These miraculous births
were all prophecies
about the healing and regeneration of God's Church.
complete faith and humility, Mary very simply accepted God's will. "I
servant," she said to the angel. "Let it be as you say."
that, the angel Gabriel departed. Later, he appeared to Joseph also and told
him about the special Child Whom Mary was to bear.
was filled with joy. She began to pray and fast even more now.
soon as possible she went to the town where Elizabeth lived in the province
Lord's angel had already told Elizabeth about Mary's special Baby, how God
Himself was going to become as a little child in order to save us. As Mary
entered her house, Elizabeth rushed to meet her. Mary
greeted her relative, "Rejoice,
Elizabeth." At that moment the babe, John, who was in Elizabeth's womb,
leapt for joy.
said, "How is it that the Mother of the Lord has come to visit me?"
stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then returned to Nazareth.
Joseph cared for the Holy Virgin with even greater respect and awe now.
last the time arrived for God to come down to earth to save us. The pure
Virgin Mary had been chosen and prepared to act as His mother.
that time, the ruler of the land, Augustus, passed a law that everyone had
to go to their hometown to pay a special tax. Since Joseph and Mary were descendants of the great King David, they had to go to the
town of Bethlehem to
pay the tax. Bethlehem was a long way from Nazareth. It was a hard journey,
for Joseph was a very old man and Mary was with child. By the time Joseph and Mary had arrived in Bethlehem, there were no
rooms left for them to rent. Joseph was very worried. In those days, there
were no hospitals, and Mary
was about to give birth to her Baby. There was not even a room for them.
He searched everywhere, and at last, he found a manger-cave where cows and sheep were kept in times of bad weather.
were the descendants of the great Prophet-Kings David and Solomon,
sleeping in a cave with cows and sheep.
this night, the greatest of miracles took place. In this poor cave, Jesus Christ,
our God and Creator, came into this world as a small baby in order to save mankind. Mary wrapped her Holy Child in cloth to keep
Him warm, and placed
Him in a manger. But in this poor and humble place a wondrous majesty
surrounded the Everlasting Child.
far from the cave, the simple, believing shepherds of Bethlehem were
keeping watch over their flocks of sheep. Some of them had gathered to
they were even talking about God and His love for mankind.
in the midst of the night's darkness, a heavenly light appeared. It was
an angel of God. The shepherds became frightened at such a wondrous sight.
angel gently said, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.
Today, the Saviour is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. You will find Him lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling
this moment, a whole host of angels appeared, rejoicing and chanting: "Glory
to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will!"
then the angels disappeared. The shepherds, trembling in reverent fear
said, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to
pass." They set
out and found the manger-cave. When they saw the Christ-Child in the manger,
they prostrated themselves to the ground and worshipped Him. Together they Glorified God, and told Joseph and
Mary all that had happened in the field.
treasured all these things in her heart and humbly glorified God for His
the time of Christ's birth, God also sent a special revelation to three Magi,
who lived in the East. These three men had read the prophecies of the prophet Daniel about the coming of the Saviour. The
Magi were counselors and
astrologers to the Persian kings and Daniel himself had been a chief of
the Magi in
Babylon and Persia, so his prophecies were known in the East. Receiving this revelation they came a very long way, riding
horses across the desert, following a vision which was like a star, which God had sent to
They brought gifts for the Christ Child: gold, frankincense, and a spice oil
called myrrh. When they came to the manger, they prostrated themselves and
adored the Holy Baby. Then, leaving their gifts, the wise men returned home, glorifying God.
kept all these things in her heart. They were too great for her to
understand all at once, but God gave her understanding through the grace
of His Holy
and Joseph raised the Child Jesus according to the law of God. We do not
know when Joseph reposed, but he died before Jesus began his ministry.
Jesus began to teach the people and to reveal who He was, Mary remembered
all the things that had happened: how the angel had spoken to her and told her about her special Child and how the prophets
Anna and Symeon had
met Him in the temple in Jerusalem and prophesied about Him. Then she clearly
understood His work on earth. She became the first disciple of the Saviour.
when Mary and Jesus were invited to a wedding in the town of Cana, it was
revealed to us that Mary is a unique disciple of Christ, and that her intercessions
with Him are very powerful.
Jesus and His mother, and the disciples sat at the wedding feast in Cana, Mary
noticed that the host had run out of wine. Now, in the East, if a host runs out of wine during a feast — especially a
wedding feast — it brings shame and embarrassment on his house. Because of this, Mary was
moved with pity for
the host. She turned to Jesus and said, "Son, they have no more
replied, "Yes, madam, but what does it matter to you and Me; My time to
work miracles has not yet come." Mary knew, however, that her Son
would fulfil her
request, so she told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."
the servants to fill the water pots with water. Then he blessed them and caused the water to become the finest wine.
though it was not yet time, according to God's plan, for Christ to begin
His miracles, because of Mary's intercession, the order of God's plan was changed, and Christ worked the miracle ahead of
now began His teaching and healing ministry, working miracles and
revealing the nature of Redemption. Mary often followed Him as a disciple
servant. She was still a mother, however, and though she served Him as Lord, she worried about Him as a son. Once, when Jesus
was teaching, she feared
that He was exhausting Himself and so she came with some relatives to beg
Him to rest. Jesus would take no rest but continued to teach.
the time came for Jesus to end His ministry, Mary became more and more
concerned. She knew that many sought to kill Jesus, and she had heard His
own words that He would die on a cross. Nothing could prepare a mother to see her beloved son tortured and crucified for crimes
which he did not commit.
Mary knew that Jesus would be crucified because He had helped people
and healed them. She knew that evil people hated Him for the good things that He had done.
one can even imagine the grief and agony which pierced the heart and soul
of the Theotokos as she stood near the cross gazing upon her tortured and wounded
Son, hanging on the Cross. Her sister-in-law, Mary, wife of Joseph's brother Cleophas, stood by her side, supporting her, and
Apostle John also stood
nearby. His own grief was so great that he could barely offer Mary any
despite His great suffering and pain, Jesus turned His head and looked
lovingly upon His mother and upon John, the apostle who was closest to Him. At that moment, Jesus' thoughts were not upon His
own suffering, but
upon the welfare and safety of His mother. He said to Mary, "Madam,
this will be
your son." And to John He said, "Son, this is your mother."
that time on, John treated Mary as his own mother, and she lived in his
Theotokos had gathered together with the other apostles to pray after the
burial of Jesus. She knew the promise of His Resurrection and so her sorrow was softened by hope. When the news of Christ's
Resurrection came, the
apostles and Mary were filled with wonder and with a joy which cannot be described.
They saw the Saviour and spoke with Him again. For forty days, Mary was able to see her Son and hear Him once more. What
grace, peace and joy filled her heart when she saw Him ascend in glory.
Lord had commanded His disciples to gather together in prayer and fasting
until the day of Pentecost, when they would receive the Holy Spirit.
the Holy Spirit had come down from heaven upon the apostles, they went
to preach the Gospel and establish the Holy Church in every nation.
also traveled to other cities. When the holy Apostle John became Bishop
of Ephesus, Mary went there and lived in his house for some time.
of the time, however, Mary lived in Jerusalem. She was greatly loved and
revered by all the members of the Holy Church. The Virgin Mary was the holiest person on earth, because Christ our God had dwelt
in her womb and she
naturally was filled with a greater faith and understanding of Christ than
any other human
being could ever be. She had been His earthly mother and He had given her many gifts of grace.
must die sooner or later, no matter how holy they are. The time came
for Mary to die also. Christ had already conquered death for us, however,
and we know that everyone will rise from the grave just as Christ did on
Holy Pascha. For this reason, we no longer say that a
believing Orthodox Christian "dies;" we say that they "repose" or "fall
asleep," because we know that death is only a sleep; it is only for a while, and everyone will
rise again someday. This is what the word "Dormition" means: to go to sleep for a while.
For this reason,
we call the feast day on which we commemorate Mary's repose, "The Dormition
of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary."
time came for Mary to repose also and, one day, while she was praying, the
Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would depart this life in three days.
was overjoyed to hear that she would repose, for she longed to be with
Christ in heaven. She called all the Christians in Jerusalem to come to
her so she could bid them farewell. To the women that lived in her house
as nuns, she gave pieces of her clothing as remembrances.
Word was sent to the Apostle John, and Mary told him where she was to be buried. All her relatives and
the faithful of
the Holy Church began to gather. They wept in sorrow, but Mary comforted
them telling them that it would be better for them to rejoice than to
weep, for Christ's followers do not fear death.
apostles hastened to Mary's bedside to bid her farewell and ask for her prayers.
peacefully reposed, with joy and hope, at the ninth hour of the day.
was carried with honor to her family's tomb near the Mount of Olives. By
God's will, only the Apostle Thomas who had gone into the East to preach, did not arrive at Mary's bedside, but he came to
Jerusalem as soon as he
heard about her repose. God had caused this because He wanted to give the
Holy Church a special revelation. Thomas begged the apostles to open
Mary's tomb so
that he could see her one last time. When they opened her grave, it was empty. Christ had taken Mary's body to heaven also, as
a special testimony
to all of us about the certainty of the resurrection of our bodies. Thus,
we know that she is alive and already raised from the dead and she constantly prays for all Orthodox people, and helps us in
time of trouble.
of this revelation from God, the apostles and the first Christians understood
the special place of honor the Virgin Mary was given in the Church. They understood that they could call on her in
prayer for help.
of experience and our Orthodox life in the Holy Spirit have confirmed
in us the certainty of this revelation.
is a revelation to us of the glory which is bestowed upon all those who
will truly unite themselves to our Saviour Jesus Christ. As the special chosen vessel of God, she has grace beyond what we can
acquire, and glory higher
than any angel. Nevertheless, she teaches us of the richness of grace and the
fullness of the Holy Spirit which all those who struggle to live a godly
life in Christ
us, brothers and sisters in Christ, enter together into the spiritual contemplations
on the following pages so that, coming to understand the Most Holy Theotokos better, we may also behold the glory
of the works of God more
clearly. May our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, through the Holy and Life
Bestowing Spirit, open the eyes of your hearts to perceive the richness of
His mercy and the true nature of His Redemption.