St. Mary The Model Of Virgins


The Fathers of Alexandria represent two Mariological trends: the theological and the ascetical. Every time the waves of martyrdom were calmed, ascetism was favoured by the Egyptians in its place, the men usually preferring to live in the desert, while girls lived in the houses of virgins in the cities. It was natural that St. Mary should be presented to those girls as the great example after which to form themselves. She was depicted by the virgins as the “Virgin of virgins” and their patroness.

In the second century, the Great Origen says, “It would be unseemly to have to attribute to someone other than the virgin the first-fruits of Christian virginity”.[1]

St. Alexander of Alexandria, in an address reproduced by his successor St. Athanasius, tells the virgins: “You have, as an example, the conduct of Mary, who is the type and image of the life that is proper to heaven (i.e. virginity)”.[2]

St. Athanasius in his “letter to virgins” preserved in Coptic, represents St. Mary as the model of virgins, describing her life not as it appears in the Holy Bible, but as the model of a virgin’s life as he says:

“Mary was a pure virgin, with a harmonious disposition.

She loved good works…

She did not want to be seen by men; but she asked God to examine her…

She remained continually at home, living a retired life and imitating a honey-bee…

She generously distributed to the poor what was left over from the work of her hands..

She prayed solitarily to God, for two things: not to let a bad thought take root in her heart, and to grow neither bold nor hard of heart        

Her speech was calm and her voice was low…

She wanted to make progress everyday; and she did so.

When she rose in the morning, she endeavoured to make her works more new than those she had already done….

She was not afraid of death, but rather was sad, and sighted everyday that she had not yet crossed the threshold of heaven”.[3]

St. Ambrose, referring to St. Athanasius’ letter to virgins, gives a beautiful picture of the Virgin Mary as a model of the virgins[4] , in his work “De Virginibus”.[5] He praised St. Mary for her humility, her silence or moderation in speech, her retirement, her virginal solicitude to keep an unsullied reputation, her modesty, her assiduity in reading the Scripture, her respect for others, her industry and, in a special way, for her faith and devotion.

He rightly concluded his treatise, “Have, then, before your eyes, as an image, the virgin life of Mary, from whom as from a mirror shines forth the brightness of chastity and the form of virtue”.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus in his oration delivered at Constantinople in 379 A.D. relates how St. Justina, the martyr and virgin, facing death with the magician Cyprian, whom she had converted, invoked, as protector of her virginity, Christ, her Bridegroom, and prayed to Virgin Mary as a “virgin in a danger”. She looked to her as a patroness of virgins.[6]


[1] Origen: In Mat. Com. 10:17 PG 13:878a

[2] Hilda Graef: Mary, A History of Doct. and Devotion, London 1963. p. 50

[3] Letter to Virgins 89-91

[4] C. W. Newmann: The Virgin Mary in the works of St. Ambrose, Switzerland 1962,         P.38. Lefort: Athanase, Ambroise et Chenoute, “Sur La Virginite” in Museon. Vol. 48, 1935, p. 55-13

[5] Book 2

[6] Oratione24:19 PG35:1180c

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