Saint Mary in the Orthodox Concept
Saint Mary is regarded as the highest saint in the Orthodox Church. She is higher than all the heavenly saints and any man or woman saint who ever lived. She is called the Theotokos, which is a Greek word meaning “Mother of God.” Saint Mary is the Mother of God. The Coptic church focuses on the life of Saint Mary in the month of August. The fast of Saint Mary is from August 7 – August 21. The feast of the assumption of Saint Mary is August 22.
The Theotokos in the Feasts of the Coptic Orthodox Church
The Annunciation of the Birth of Saint Mary
This is the day celebrating the annunciation of the birth of Saint Mary to Joachim, the father of Saint Mary. Joachim and Anna were the parents of Saint Mary. This day is celebrated on 7 Misra (August 13th). On this day, God sent His honorable angel Gabriel to announce to Saint Joachim of the birth of the Virgin, the mother of the incarnated God. This righteous man and his wife Saint Anna (Hannah) were stricken in years and had no children for Anna was barren. The children of Israel used to insult him because he had not begotten a son. Because of this, these two saints were sad, and prayed continually, and entreated God by day and by night. They vowed that the child they would beget would be made a steward for the temple. While Saint Joachim was praying over the mountain, he fell into a deep sleep and Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, appeared to him and announced to him that his wife Anna would conceive and bear a child, that would delight his eyes and please his heart; and likewise all the world would rejoice and be glad. When he woke from his sleep, he came to his house, and told his wife about the vision, which she believed. Anna conceived forthwith, and brought forth our Lady, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Anna became more honorable than all the women of the world.
The Birth of Saint Mary
The birth of Saint Mary is celebrated on 1 Bashans (May 9th). On this day the church celebrates the birth of the pure Virgin Saint Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos), through whom Salvation came to mankind. She was born in the city of Nazareth, where her parents lived. Her father was grieved in his heart for he could not offer an offering to God for he did not have any children. In the fullness of time according to the Divine Will, the angel of the Lord was sent to announce Joachim, her father, while he was on the mountain praying, and said to him: “The Lord will give you offspring through whom salvation comes to the world.” Immediately he went down the mountain believing what the angel told him, and he told his wife Anna of what he saw and heard. She rejoiced, gave thanks to the Lord, and vowed that the child who was to be born to her would become a servant in the house of the Lord all the days of her/his life. She conceived, and gave birth to this Saint and called her Mary who had become the Queen of all women of the world, and through her we have received the grace.
HOLY VIRGIN MARY
We magnify you, O mother of the True Light and glorify you O Theotokos, the Holy Virgin, for you have born for us the Savior of the world, who came and saved us."
No other personality from the New or the Old Testament has been venerated like St. Mary. She has been raised in status above the Cherubim and the Seraphim, for she has said through the Holy Spirits, "...behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name." (Lk 1:48-49)
What Role did Saint Mary Play?
St. Mary the Virgin is the Mother of God; Theotokos. (Lk 1:43). She was the seed of David (Rom 3:1); the bride-to-be of Joseph (Mt 1:18-25); kinswoman of Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist (Lk 1:36); attended to ceremonial purification (Lk 2:22-38); fled into Egypt with Joseph and Jesus (Mt 2:13-15); lived in Nazareth (Mt 2:19-23); took twelve-year old Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem (Lk 2:41-50); at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (Jn 2:1-11); concerned for Jesus' safety (Mt 12:46, Mk 3:21-31, Lk 8:19-21); at the cross where she was entrusted by Our Lord Jesus Christ to care of John the Evangelist (Jn 19:25-27); in the Upper Room with the disciples where the Holy Spirit came down upon them (Acts 1:14).
Saint Mary's Childhood:
St. Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, were righteous people in front of God. They prayed earnestly asking God to grant them a child. Six years after they were married, they had Mary, and they knew that she was a special gift from God. They gave her the name "MARY" which means "Royal Incense" because she would become a special offering to God. When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anne took her to the temple and dedicated their child to God. She spent nine years in the temple. When Mary was twelve years old, Zacharias the priest wanted to find a suitable man who could take care of her. He gathered the canes of her male relatives, and put them in the temple. The next day the cane of Joseph the carpenter budded, just like Aaron's rod in the Old Testament (Num 17:8). So Mary and Joseph became engaged. "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, and angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceive in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.'" (Mt 1:18-21)
Our Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, venerates St. Mary more than any other personalities in the Bible, because God took flesh from her. Therefore, she became like a second heaven or a dwelling place for God.
The Titles of the Holy Virgin Saint Mary Our Lady, the Mother of God:
St. Mary has many titles that are used by the Coptic Orthodox Church such as:
1. The 'Theotokos'
This is a Greek word composed of two syllables: 'Theo' meaning 'God', and 'tokos' meaning 'bearer'; that is, 'she who bore God in her womb'. This theological term has its origins in the Bible, in the following places:
• The archangel Gabriel announced to St. Mary saying, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Lk 1:35).
• Elizabeth said to St. Mary, "But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).
• Isaiah prophesied concerning St. Mary and said "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel." (Is 7:14 and Mt 1:23).
2. The 'Second Heaven'
According to Acts 7:49, "Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool", God dwells in heaven, and therefore we call St. Mary the 'second heaven' because God descended and dwelt within her.
3. The 'Golden lampstand' and the 'Mother of True Light'
St. Mary carried our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the True Light of the world (Jn 8:12), and for this reason, we give her this title. In the introduction to the Creed, we also say 'We exalt you the Mother of the true Light...'
4. The 'Golden Censor'
St. Mary carried bore our Lord Jesus Christ, the 'Sweet Aroma'. On another point, the union, within the censor, of charcoal and fire, symbolizes the unity between the Divinity and Humanity of our Lord, and thus we call her the 'golden censor' because she carried the incarnate God in her womb.
5. The 'Burning Bush'
Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed, "And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, but the bush was not consumed" (Ex 3:2). The fire is a symbol of God, "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire" (Deut 4:24), and the burning bush, which was not consumed by fire, is a symbol of St. Mary, who carried the fire of the Divinity in her womb and was not consumed by it.
6. 'Aaron's Rod'
This rod sprouted, put forth buds, produced blossoms, and yielded ripe almonds, without being planted nor watered (Num 17:1-11), and for this reason, it is a symbol of St. Mary, who being virgin, gave birth to God the logos.
7. The 'Ever-Virgin'
In the fraction of advent, the priest says 'She being virgin, gave birth to Him, and her virginity is sealed.' We believe that St. Mary's virginity existed before, during and after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ezekiel prophesied regarding her virginity and said "Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the Lord said to me; this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it, therefore it shall be shut." (Ez 44:1-2). This closed gate is a symbol of St. Mary's perpetual virginity.
8. 'Jacob's Ladder'
"Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." (Gn 28:12) This Ladder is a symbol of St. Mary because our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven to earth by taking flesh through her, and thus she was the junction between heaven and earth.
9. The 'Manna Pot'
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the 'True Manna' Who descended from heaven and gave life to the world- "This is the bread which came down from heaven-not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats his bread will live forever." (Jn 6:58). Thus St. Mary is the 'golden pot' who carried the 'True Manna' in her womb (Ex 16:32-33).
10. The 'Ark of the Covenant'
"...and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat." (Heb 9:3-5) This Ark was overlaid on all sides with gold, and this is a symbol of St. Mary's purity that is like the pure gold. It contained the manna, which is a symbol of Jesus Christ, the 'Living Bread', and the tablets of the covenant, which are a symbol of Jesus Christ the Word (Jn 1:1). It also had placed above it the cherubim of glory, overshadowing the mercy seat, which is why in the icon of St. Mary we see angels overshadowing her.
Virgin Mary's Feasts:
All of these feasts have special hymns and doxologies in the rites of the Church, which contain within them many prophecies and symbols concerning Saint Mary in the Old Testament.
For two thousand years the Church has preserved the memory of the Virgin Mary as the prototype of all Christians - model of what we are to become through Christ. St. Mary was truly pure and unconditionally obedient to God. The tradition of the Church holds that St. Mary remained a virgin all her life. While lifelong celibacy is not a requirement for all Christians to follow, St. Mary's spiritual purity (her whole hearted devotion to God) is certainly to be emulated.
St. Mary is also our model in that she was the first person to receive Jesus Christ. Because she bore Christ in her womb physically, all Christians now have the privilege of bearing God within them spiritually. The honor we give to St. Mary also signifies our view of who Jesus is. From early times the Church has called her Mother of God (Theotokos), a title which implies that her Son is both full man and full God. As His mother, she was the source of His human nature; even though the One she bore in her womb was the eternal God. Therefore, because of her character and her role in God's plan of salvation, we appropriately honor St. Mary as the first among the saints. The archangel Gabriel initiated his honor to her when he addressed her with the good news of the Annunciation, as did Elizabeth (Lk 1:28,42). St. Mary herself, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the honor that would be given to her throughout history (Lk 1:48).
In obedience to God's clear intention, our Church honors St. Mary through icons, hymns, and special feast days. We entreat her as the human being who was most intimate to Christ on earth, to intercede with her Son on our behalf. We ask her, as the first believer and the mother of the Church, for guidance and protection. We venerate her, but do not worship her. For worship belongs to God alone. We remember her in all of our prayers, which gives her an unique place in our church and hears. We still remember her miracles and her awesome apparel in our churches.
We ask Saint Mary to remember us O faithful advocate, before our Lord, to ask His forgiveness of our many sins.