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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fr. Georges Florovsky: The Ever- Virgin Mary, the Mother of GOD (Mother's Day, in honor of my departed mother)

Panaghia Theotokos

...Jesus was (and is) the Eternal God, and yet Incarnate, and Mary was his Mother in the fullest sense.

Otherwise the Incarnation would not have been genuine. But this means precisely that for the
Incarnate Lord there is one particular human person to whom he is in a very special relation,-in
precise terms, one for whom he is not only the Lord and Saviour, but a Son. On the other hand,
Mary was the true mother of her Child-the truth of her human maternity is of no less relevance
and importance than the mystery of her divine motherhood. But the Child was divine. Yet the
spiritual implications of her motherhood could not be diminished by the exceptional character of
the case, nor could Jesus fail to be truly human in his filial response to the motherly affection of
the one of whom he was born. This is not a vain speculation. It would be impertinent indeed to
intrude upon the sacred field of this unparalleled intimacy between the Mother and the divine Child. But it would be even more impertinent to ignore the mystery. In any case, it would have been a very impoverished idea if we regarded the Virgin Mother merely as a physical instrument of our Lord's taking flesh. Moreover, such a misinterpretation is formally excluded by the explicit teaching of the Church, attested from the earliest date: she was not just a "channel" through which the Heavenly Lord has come, but truly the mother of whom he took his humanity. St. John of Damascus precisely in these very words summarizes the Catholic teaching: he did not come "as through a pipe" [hos dia solenos] but has assumed of her [ex autes], a human nature consubstantial to ours (De Fide Orth., 111, 12).

Mary "has found favor with God" (Luke i. 30). She was chosen and ordained to serve in the Mystery of the Incarnation. And by this eternal election or predestination she was in a sense set apart and given an unique privilege and position in the whole of mankind, nay in the whole of creation. She was given a transcendent rank, as it were. She was at once a representative of the human race, and set apart. There is an antinomy here, implied in the divine election. She was set apart. She was put into a unique and unparalleled relation to God, to the Holy Trinity, even before the Incarnation, as the prospective Mother of the Incarnate Lord, just because it was not an ordinary historical happening, but an eventful consummation of the eternal decree of God. She has a unique position even in the divine plan of salvation. Through the Incarnation human nature was to be restored again into the fellowship with God which had been destroyed and abrogated by the Fall. The sacred humanity of Jesus was to be the bridge over the abyss of sin. Now, this humanity was to be taken of the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation itself was a new beginning in the destiny of man, a beginning of the new humanity. In the Incarnation the "new man" was born, the "Last Adam"; he was truly human, but he was more than a man: "The second man is the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. xv. 47).

As the Mother of this "Second Man," Mary herself was participating in the mystery of the redeeming re-creation of the world. Surely, she is to be counted among the redeemed. She was most obviously in need of salvation. Her Son is her Redeemer and Saviour, just as he is the Redeemer of the world. Yet, she is the only human being for whom the Redeemer of the world is also a son, her own child whom she truly bore. Jesus indeed was born "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John i. 13— this verse is related both to the Incarnation and to baptismal regeneration), and yet he is "the fruit of the womb" of Mary.

His supernatural birth is the pattern and the font of the new existence, of the new and spiritual birth of all believers, which is nothing else than a participation in his sacred humanity, an adoption into the sonship of God-in the second man," in the "last Adam." The Mother of the "second man" necessarily had her own and peculiar way into the new life. It is not too much to say that for her the Redemption was, in a sense, anticipated in the fact of the Incarnation itself,— and anticipated in a peculiar and personal manner. "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" (Luke i. 35). This was a true "theophanic presence"— in the fullness of grace and of the Spirit. The "shadow" is exactly a theophanic symbol. And Mary was truly "full of grace," gratia plena, kecharitomene. The Annunciation was for her, as it were, an anticipated Pentecost. We are compelled to risk this daring parallelism by the inscrutable logic of the divine election. For indeed we cannot regard the Incarnation merely as a metaphysical miracle which would be unrelated to the personal destiny and existence of the persons involved. Man is never dealt with by God as if he was but a tool in the hands of a master. For man is a living person. By no means could it be merely an "instrumental" grace, when the Virgin was "overshadowed" with the power of the Highest. The unique position of the Virgin Mary is obviously not her own achievement, nor simply a "reward" for her "merits,"— nor even perhaps was the fullness of grace given to her in a “prevision" of her merits and virtue.

It was supremely the free gift of God, in the strictest sense— gratia gratis data. It was an absolute and eternal election, although not unconditional— for it was conditioned by and related to the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary holds her unique position and has a "category of her own" not as a mere Virgin, but as the Virgin-Mother, parthenometor, as the predestined Mother of the Lord. Her function in the Incarnation is twofold. On the one hand, she secures the continuity of the human race. Her Son
is, in virtue of his "second nativity," the Son of David, the Son of Abraham and of all the "forefathers" (this is emphasized by the genealogies of Jesus, in both versions). In the phrase of St. Irenaeus, he "recapitulated in himself the long roll of humanity" (Adv. Haeres., 111, 18, 1: longam hominum expositionem in se ipso recapitulavit), "gathered up in himself all nations, dispersed as they were even from Adam" (111, 22, 3) and "took upon himself the old way of creation" (IV, 23, 4). But, on the other hand, he "exhibited a new sort of generation" (V, 1, 3). He was the New Adam. This was the most drastic break in the continuity, the true reversal of the previous process. And this "reversal" begins precisely with the Incarnation, with the Nativity of the "Second Man." St. Irenaeus speaks of a recirculation from Mary to Eve (111, 22, 4). As the Mother of the New Man Mary has her anticipated share in this very newness. Of course, Jesus the Christ is the only Lord and Saviour. But Mary is his mother. She is the morning star that announces the sunrise, the rise of the true Sol salutis: aster emphainon ton helion. She is "the dawn of the mystic day," auge mystikes hemeras (both phrases are from the Akathist hymn). And in a certain sense even the Nativity of our Lady itself belongs to the mystery of salvation. "Thy birth, O Mother of God and Virgin, hath declared joy to all the universe— for from thee arose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God" (Troparion of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lady). ...

...The intimate experience of the Mother of the Lord is hidden from us. And nobody was ever able to share this unique experience, by the very nature of the case. It is the mystery of the person. This accounts for the dogmatic reticence of the Church in Mariological doctrine. The Church speaks of her rather in the language of devotional poetry, in the language of antinomical metaphors and images. There is no need, and no reason, to assume that the Blessed Virgin realized at once all the fullness and all the implications of the unique privilege bestowed upon her by the grace of God. There is no need, and no reason, to interpret the "fullness" of grace in a literal sense as including all possible perfections and the whole variety of particular spiritual gifts. It was a fullness for her, she was full of grace. And yet it was a "specialized" fullness, the grace of the Mother of God, of the Virgin Mother, of the "Unwedded Spouse," Nymphe anympheute. Indeed, she had her own spiritual way, her own growth in grace. The full meaning of the mystery of salvation was apprehended by her gradually. And she had her own share in the sacrifice of the Cross: "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also" (Luke ii. 35).

The full light shone forth only in the Resurrection. Up to that point Jesus himself was not yet glorified. And after the Ascension we find the Blessed Virgin among the Twelve, in the center of the growing Church. One point is beyond any doubt. The Blessed Virgin had been always impressed, if this word is suitable here, by the angelic salutation and announcement and by the startling mystery of the virgin birth. How could she not be impressed? Again, the mystery of her experience is hidden from us. But can we really avoid this pious guesswork without betraying the mystery itself? "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" (Luke ii.19).

Her inner life had to be concentrated on this crucial event of her story. For indeed the mystery of the Incarnation was for her also the mystery of her own personal existence. Her existential situation was unique and peculiar. She had to be adequate to the unprecedented dignity of this situation. This is perhaps the very essence of her particular dignity, which is described as her "Ever-Virginity." She is the Virgin. Now virginity is not simply a bodily status or a physical feature as such. Above all it is a spiritual and inner attitude, and apart from that a bodily status would be altogether meaningless.

The title of Ever-Virgin means surely much more than merely a "physiological" statement. It does not refer only to the Virgin Birth. It does not imply only an exclusion of any later marital intercourse (which would be utterly inconceivable if we really believe in the Virgin Birth and in the Divinity of
Jesus). It excludes first of all any "erotic" involvement, any sensual and selfish desires or Passions, any dissipation of the heart and mind. The bodily integrity or incorruption is but an outward sign of the internal purity. The main point is precisely the purity of the heart, that indispensable condition of "seeing God." This is the freedom from passions, the true apatheia, which has been commonly described as the essence of the spiritual life. Freedom from passions and "desires," epithymia— imperviability to evil thoughts, as St. John of Damascus puts it. Her soul was governed by God only [theogyberneton], it was supremely attached to him.

All her desire was directed towards things worthy of desire and affection (St. John says: tetamene, attracted, gravitating). She had no passion [thymon]. She ever preserved virginity in mind, and soul, and body, kai noi kai psychei kai somati aeipartheneusan (Homil. 1, in Nativitatem B.V. Mariae 9 and 5, Migne, Ser. Gr. XCVI, 676 A and 668 C). It was an undisturbed orientation of the whole personal life towards God, a complete self-dedication. To be truly a "handmaid of the Lord" means precisely to be ever-virgin, and not to have any fleshly preoccupations. Spiritual virginity is sinlessness, but not yet "perfection," and not freedom from temptations. But even our Lord himself was in a sense liable to temptations and was actually tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Our Lady perhaps had her temptations too, but has overcome them in her steady faithfulness to God's calling.

Even an ordinary motherly love culminates in a spiritual identification with the child, which implies so often sacrifice and self-denial. Nothing less can be assumed in the case of Mary; her Child was to be great and to be called the Son of the Highest (cf. Luke i. 32). Obviously, he was one who "should have come," the Messiah (cf. Luke vii. 19). This is openly professed by Mary in the Magnificat, a song of Messianic praise and thanksgiving. Mary could not fail to realize all this, if only dimly for a time and gradually, as she pondered all the glorious promises in her heart. This was the only conceivable way for her. She had to be absorbed by this single thought, in an obedient faithfulness to the Lord who "hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden" and "hath done (for her) great things." This is precisely the way in which St. Paul described the state and the privilege of virginity: "the unmarried woman, and the virgin, thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit" (1 Cor. vii. 34, Douay version: hina e hagia kai toi somati kai toi pneumati). The climax of this virginal aspiration is the holiness of the Virgin Mother all-pure and undefiled. ...

...The mystery of the Incarnation is still, as it were, continuously enacted in the Church, and its "implications" are revealed and disclosed in devotional experience and in sacramental participation. In the Communion of Saints, which is the true Church Universal, and Catholic, the mystery of the New Humanity is disclosed as a new existential situation. And in this perspective and living context of the Mystical Body of Christ the person of the Blessed Virgin Mother appears in full light and full glory. The Church now contemplates her in the state of perfection. She is now seen as inseparably united with her Son, who "sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty." For her the final consummation of life has already come-in an anticipation. "Thou art passed over into Life, who art the Mother of Life," acknowledges the Church, "Neither grave nor death had power over the Mother of God… for the Mother of Life hath been brought into Life by him who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb" (Troparion and Kontakion for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, koimesis). Again, it is not so much a heavenly reward for her purity and virtue, as an "implication" of her sublime office, of her being the Mother of God, the Theotokos. The Church Triumphant is above all the worshipping Church, her existence is a living participation in Christ's office of intercession and his redeeming love.

Incorporation into Christ, which is the essence of the Church and of the whole Christian existence, is first of all an incorporation into his sacrificial love for mankind. And here there is a special place for her who is united with the Redeemer in the unique intimacy of motherly affection and devotion. The Mother of God is truly the common mother of all living, of the whole Christian race, born or reborn in the Spirit and truth. An affectionate identification with the child, which is the spiritual essence of motherhood, is here consummated in its ultimate perfection. The Church does not dogmatize much about these mysteries of her own existence.

For the mystery of Mary is precisely the mystery of the Church. Mater Ecclesia and Virgo Mater, both are birthgivers of the New Life. And both are orantes. The Church invites the faithful and helps them to grow spiritually into these mysteries of faith which are as well the mysteries of their own existence and spiritual destiny. In the Church they learn to contemplate and to adore the living Christ together with the whole assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven (cf. Heb. xii. 23). And in this glorious assembly they discern the eminent person of the. Virgin Mother of the Lord and Redeemer, full of grace and love, of charity and compassion— "More honorable than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, who without [corruption] didst bear [God the] Word." In the light of this contemplation and in the spirit of faith the theologian must fulfill his office of interpreting to believers and to those who seek the truth the overwhelming mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery is still symbolized, as it was in the age of the Fathers, by a single and glorious name: Mary— Theotokos, the Mother of God Incarnate.

--Father Georges Florovsky

The Ever-Virgin Mother of God*

From Chapter VI of Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. III:

Creation and Redemption


(Nordland Publishing Company: Belmont, Mass., 1976), pp. 171-188.

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