Although I have a strong Orthodox Christian background, I live in a Western American culture whose predominant Christian background is Protestant. As a result, most of the Christians that I have come into contact with have a somewhat biased perspective on the rich traditions of the Orthodox Church. While such bias may be understandable given the Catholic Church's past practices, it doesn't mean it is right when viewed from the Orthodox Christian perspective. However, it is because of, not in spite of, these differences that I have found myself drawn closer to the Orthodox Faith.
In this four-part series I would like to tackle the topic of the Ever-Virgin Mary. This topic is important, I believe, since Mary's status has been somewhat distorted in Protestant theology, and in the process her significance seems to have diminished vis-à-vis the history of The One True Church and God's plan for the salvation of mankind. I hope this discussion is not seen as an attack on the Protestant faith, but rather as a bridge towards a better understanding of the Orthodox traditions and beliefs; and maybe even a beginning towards a mutual reconciliation of the most ancient Christian Church and the more modern Western Christian churches.
The Virgin Mary, the most holy mother of our Lord Jesus Chris, is also called the "Ever-Virgin Mary" or Lady Theotokos, by Orthodox Christians and the Holy Orthodox Church from her very beginning. Theotokos in Greek means "God-Bearer" and this title exemplifies that her Son is both fully God and fully human. Orthodox Christianity has always maintained that the mother of God was always ever-virgin. This belief has existed from the beginnings of Orthodox Christianity at the time of the twelve Apostles and it has been preserved in the Orthodox Church for the past two thousand years. This doctrine however has long been abandoned in the teachings of Protestants and many other Christian denominations (except Catholicism) as nothing more than a myth.
While talking to several Protestant faithful about my beliefs that the Virgin Mary was always a virgin -- from the moment she bore the infant Christ to the point when she ascended into heaven -- it became apparent that many of them were suspicious of my statements. Many Protestants seemed to think it absurd to believe that once Mary gave birth to Jesus she didn't have any sexual relations with her husband Joseph. To quote someone I have known directly: "You mean to tell me she just ceased all physical functions altogether?"
Stunned by such callous remarks I spent some time trying to find a way to present the Church's point of view without relying solely on Orthodox tradition. Because the Orthodox Christian tradition is so rich and full of meaning based on very strong and established theological teachings it's hard to easily bridge that gap when taking to modern Christians. It takes a great deal for someone to understand the Orthodox traditions, and even longer to accept them as the true representation of the original Christian Church. The practices and beliefs of the New Testament Church are so far removed from modern western theology that I couldn't root my argument solely in the Holy Tradition and the Bible. I needed an objective and logical approach that would combine the beliefs of the church with the word of the Bible and present a new and commonsensical point of view that nearly everyone could sympathize and even agree with.
What happened next represents one of those wonderful moments of revelation I have experienced many times before in my life when I have stood up and defended the Orthodox Faith and Christ's word. I thought of a logical, almost "scientific" analysis of how it is extremely possible that the Virgin Mary was not only a virgin, but that she remained ever-virgin to her last day on earth. I'll try to recreate the points I have since proceeded to make to many of my Protestant acquaintances. To those arguments I have since added many more enhancements and revisions which have consolidated and expanded my original discourse in a multi-part series.
The Bible confirms it, and it is also undisputed in the Christian world, that an angel of God came to Mary and told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God. The angel told Mary: 30 "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name JESUS." (Luke 1:30,31) Mary accepted the will of God the Father and she became heavy with child.
Now think about this for a moment. An angel of God actually came to Mary and spoke God's will. She not only believed by faith alone, but God revealed His will unto her through His angel. Mary's response was an incredible act of faith and devotion because it showed pure and unconditional obedience to God. Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)
Mary took on the responsibility of bringing forth the Son of God in a society where unwed mothers were subject to terrible shame and immediate stoning. She submitted her body and soul to God's will in order that Jesus Christ may come into the world. Isn't it just a little bit ridiculous to think that once she gave birth to Christ she became just another woman? Isn't her devotion to God sufficient to realize that once she gave birth to the Son of God all her other worldly concerns took a back seat.
All of us readily accept the idea that thousands of men and women every year take a vow of celibacy and choose to devote body and soul to God. These men and women voluntarily choose and ascetic life and become monks and nuns. They do so of their own free will based on sheer faith and devotion to Christ. They are not visited by angels of God, and they are not asked to bear our Lord Jesus Christ in their womb. If we believe these Christians can renounce physical desires and subscribe their lives to Christ, why is it so hard to believe that the Virgin Mary renounced her own physical desires and submitted her life to God. Protestants seem to hold ordinary men and women to a higher standard than the one and only mother of the Son of God. Now, that doesn't seem logical does it?
What's even more interesting is that Protestant Christians today don't seem to question the ability of Buddhist monks or other eastern spiritualists to completely submit control of their physical bodies to the power of the mind and spirit. Their abilities, and that of many others like them, are neither challenged, nor looked upon suspiciously, nor considered impossible. They are simply asserting control of mind over matter. But God forbid that such physical subordination should be the result of spiritual faith, purity of soul, and complete devotion to the one true God!
Spiritual superiority and abstinent lifestyles seem to be relegated only to other faiths and other people, except members of Christ's family and the early followers and Disciples of Christ. Those who walked with Jesus apparently could not master their physical urges and achieve the saintly transformation we have witnesses millions of times since the foundation of the Christian faith.
The lengths and contortions through which modern Protestant scholars go to justify their illogical theological theories have to be counteracted with an equally strong argument. This must be done in order to show just how out of touch they are with common sense, historical traditions, and the truth. I hope this series achieves that purpose and exemplifies the profound bias that is so evident to me personally.
If someone has a personal encounter with the angel of the Lord you can be certain that experience will leave a lasting and significant impact on that person's life. Now add to that Mary's extraordinary faith and complete submission of body and soul to God, her absolute purity and sanctity of spirit, and her essential task of raising and caring for the Son of God, and I think you'll understand why the idea that Mary just kept on living a regular, "run of the mill" life seems more and more preposterous.