The Orthodox Faith Found In The Pages Of The Bible
What The Bible Says About Mary
Mary, called the Theotókos (= God-bearer), was deeply steeped in Holy Scriptures (Bible) and the Jewish Tradition. So well was she versed in the Scriptures that the New Testament presents her as quoting and applying them in her everyday life, e.g. when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, and at the wedding at Canaa. But this humble woman who pondered the Scriptures is quite often misunderstood. We shall try to answer questions about Mary using the Bible as meditated upon by the Church tradition.
Why is Mary called "Mother of God"?
The first one to call her this was her cousin Elizabeth, when she asked, "Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” (Luke 1:43)
The Greek word for “Lord” (kyrios) used in the New Testament was common to mean "God". When we say that Mary is the Mother of God we do not, of course, say that she existed before God, but that she is the mother of the divine Jesus who is part of the Holy Trinity. The Apostle John teaches us that the Word who is God was made flesh (John 1). This is Jesus born of Mary. If Jesus is God made flesh and Mary is truly His Mother, then she deserves the title Mother of God. This title actually dates back to the third century. It was also used as a defense of Christ’s divinity at the Council of Ephesus in 451.
The Theotókos contemplated the word of God to such an extent that it became flesh within her. Jesus, likewise, invites us to be like his mother. He said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). This is far from a put-down of Mary, as is sometimes contended. In fact, St. Luke in his Gospel holds up the Virgin Mary as that one who perfectly hears the word of God and fully responds to it. Not only does she readily embrace it but she makes haste to share it with her cousin. Mary directs us also to meditate upon and live out the word of God in our lives.
Why is she called “Ever-Virgin”?
Jesus had ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ (Matthew 13:55). The Aramaic language spoken at Jesus’ time used the word “brother” meaning the same as cousin, as it is still the custom in many oriental countries today. Because of early Christian writings and church tradition we know that James, Joseph, Simon and Jude were actually what we call cousins of Jesus. Mary was consecrated to God in a very special way, and so she offered her perpetual virginity to God as a gift. After bearing God in her womb she would not allow herself to be known by another. Her virginity is actually spiritual purity manifested in an everlasting physical way.
St. Paul writes to his disciples, “I arranged for you to marry Christ so that I might give you away as a chaste virgin to this one husband” (2 Corinthians 11 :2). Mary’s first husband is the Lord God. In Revelations 14:4 we read that the followers of Jesus “...have kept their virginity “ by following Christ most purely. Thus we are to be spiritual virgins for Christ. Jesus even invites some people to perpetual sexual virginity for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19: 12). The Holy Tradition of the Church, which includes the New Testament, has stated that Mary is both physically and spiritually pure and immaculate.
The Biblical Basis For Holy Icons
In Genesis 1:26, the text reads: “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” Throughout Holy Scripture we are reminded that we are made in the image of GOD.
Colossians 3:10 states, “…and have put on the new human who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” We again are confronted with the fact that we are made in the image of Him. The Greek word translated as image in the text is the word eikon, the obvious origin of our word ‘icon’.
God also instructed Moses to work the image of the cherubim into the outer curtains of the Tabernacle structure and into the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:1, 31-33).
For the Most Holy Place, Solomon had built two sculptured cherubim (I Kings 6:23-28, II Chronicles 3:10-13). Cherubim were worked into the curtain that covered the entrance to the Most Holy Place (II Chronicles 3:14). Cherubim were also carved onto the two wooden doors for the entrance to the Most Holy Place and on the walls all around the temple (I Kings 6:31-35, 29-30).
Besides a description of the layout of the temple complex, the temple furnishings, the priesthood, the layout of the land, there is also a description of wall carvings (Ezekiel 41:15-26). The wall carvings consisted of palm trees and of cherubim.
The superiority of Christ is proven by the fact that the coming of the Son supersedes all previous Old Testament revelations. In the prologue to the fourth Gospel the apostle John makes a similar point: “For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth were given through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (John 1:17-18).
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and our hands have touched … (I John 1:1).
Biblical Guidelines For The Practical Use Of Holy Icons*
The purpose of holy Icons is more than to help us think about God but rather to encounter God. Looking at an Icon is a moment of personal encounter with the risen Lord. To look at the Icon of Jesus is to see Jesus himself. We find biblical support for this when Jacob met his brother Esau in the desert after many years of separation and estrangement, he told him: “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God …” (Genesis 33:10). If we take this passage literally, we can derive the principle that an ordinary face can be used to depict the divine presence. When we come to the New Testament we encounter the mystery of the incarnation, in which the divine Word came down from heaven and took on a human face. Jesus told Philip: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”(John 14:9). Because Jesus is now risen and having ascended to heaven fills the whole universe (Ephesians 4:10), the very real possibility exists of our encountering Jesus through the Icon.
*In correct English, the word “Icon” is always capitalized when referring to the religious, holy Icon. In this way, the word “icon” is clearly distinguished from other uses of the word, such as computer icons.