ST. MARY’S VIRGINITY
Aaron’s rod, in fact, is Mary.
It is a type of her virginity. She conceived and bore the Son of the Most High, the Word, without human seed.
Theotokia of Sunday.
The virginity of St. Mary is not a matter of her own private life, but rather a ‘biblical reality’, which belongs with our faith in Jesus Christ. For when the Word of God was Incarnated, He was not particular about the kind of place where he would be cradled, or the clothes He would wear, or the food He would eat; but He was definitely very particular about the Virgin who was to be His mother .
The prophet Isaiah gives us a prophetic sign of the Virginal Birth.
“Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a
Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel.”
Here the text refers to St. Mary the virgin mother of Emmanuel, directly and literally. It is very accurate, describes St. Mary’s state as being virgin and engaged at the same time. For the Hebrew term used for “virgin” is ‘almah’ and not ‘betulah’ nor ‘issa’. The word ‘almah’ means a virgin maiden who may be engaged, while ‘betulah’ means a virgin who is not engaged. The word ‘issa’ means a married lady.
If the Scripture uses the word ‘issa’, it does not signify an extraordinary miracle about to be performed by God. (), for the married woman can conceive and bear a son. If it uses the word ‘betulah’, it does not describe the state of St. Mary, who was engaged to St. Joseph. But it uses the word ‘almah’, which fits her state accurately, as a virgin and engaged to St. Joseph who protected her and became a faithful witness of her chastity, leaving no chance for any doubts or suspicion.
It is worth noting that this word ‘almah’ is etymologically used in this sentence to mean the continuation of the state of virginity, and for this reason it has been translated ‘the virgin’, and not ‘a virgin’, to describe the Emmanuel’s mother as the virgin even after her child’s birth.
Another prophet confirms St. Mary’s perpetual virginity, as he says:
“When he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looked towards the east, it was shut.
Then the Lord said to me:
This gate shall be shut,
it shall not be opened,
and no man shall pass through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it, therefore it shall be shut.
It is for the prince;
the prince himself shall sit in it…”
This sealed eastern gate is a figure of St. Mary’s perpetual virginity. For the Lord alone entered her womb, and this gate was never opened to another; its seals were not broken.
In this effect the Coptic Church sings the following hymn:
“Ezekiel witnessed and told us:
I have seen an eastern gate.
The Lord, the Saviour entered it, and it remains shut as it was before”.
One of the titles given to the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine rite is: “Hail O unique gate, through which only the Word passed”.
Virginity & Christology
The Virginal Birth which happened once, never to be repeated, is a proof of our faith in Jesus Christ, that He is not of this world, but from on high, the Son of God. This is what the angel Gabriel proclaimed to St. Mary herself when she asked him: “How can this come about, since I do not know man?!”, “ the Holy Spirit will come upon you ” , the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and so the Child will be called Son of God” ( : 34, 35). Subsequently, this Virginal Birth formed a principal element in all the creeds of the Early Church, not because it says something about St. Mary, but rather because it reveals the Person and Nature of Jesus Christ.
For example, the Creed of St. Hippolytus (c. 215) states:
“Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary ?”
This argument was used also by the early Christian apologists, such as St. Justin and Athenagoras, in their defence on behalf of Christianity.
St. Ignatius of Antioch (m. 110 A.D.), preached this Virginal Birth as one of the great Christological (dealing with Christ) mysteries, which were loudly proclaimed to the world in his time:
“The virginity of Mary,
and also the death of the Lord”.
These were hidden from the prince of the world. Three mysteries loudly proclaimed but wrought in the stillness of God.
In brief, this doctrine “the Virginal Birth” in fact is the outward sign of the mystery of Incarnation. For it affirms that Jesus Christ who is the real son of a real mother, was not conceived of human seed, but of the Holy Spirit. Although the Son of Man, He has no hereditary sin, but stands at the Head of a new human race.
Virginity and Our Salvation
- God comes to us, born of a virgin and conceived not of human seed. He unites Himself with us (humanity), not because of our human efforts or merits, but rather as a divine grace bestowed on us. It is the free gift of love which only comes from God.
In other words, St. Mary’s virginity is, therefore, a sign of man’s poverty and his inability to work out his own salvation; to bring into being One who can save him.
- Mary’s virginity does not mean that we have to be passive in our spiritual life. For God did not force Himself in St. Mary’s womb, nor did she conceived Him unwillingly, but played an active role. God asked her to accept! The Divine Incarnation was realized by the free grace of God, but she herself humbly accepted obedience.
- Jesus Christ was born of the “Virgin”, the archetype of the New Church, to declare the heavenly nature of the Kingdom which made its appearance with Christ, for virginity is the law of the heavens, while marriage occurs only in the present world.
Marriage with its effect – “the procreation of children” – ensures the continuity of human life on earth; for the succession of new generations. But in heaven, no one dies, subsequently there is no need of marriage or bringing forth children for the continuity of the heavenly kingdom…. Virginity is the state of all the creatures there.
Now, St. Mary’s virginity at the Incarnation of God’s Son, means establishing the heavenly kingdom among the human race. People of God are called to new life; they have to practice the heavenly life (virginity) in their hearts, minds and souls, through their fellowship with God in Jesus Christ, the Virgin Bridegroom. This is the nature of the Church in the New Testament, of which the Virgin Mary is the first and ideal member.
Virginal Birth & Spiritual Birth
In the Coptic Church the Lord’s Nativity (Christmas) is correlated with His Baptism (Epiphany), and in the early centuries these two Lord’s feasts were celebrated in one day. For at Christmas the Lord took on what was ours, i.e., our humanity, while at his Epiphany the Church hidden in Jesus Christ received what was His own, i.e., His relation to the Father. He became Son of Man, and we became sons of God.
This reality is declared in the following Church hymn:
“He took what was ours,
and bestowed on us what was His own;
may we praise Him and glorify Him”.
This correlation between the Lord’s Virginal Birth according to the flesh and our spiritual birth, is paralleled by the divine Incarnation, in the holy womb of the virgin. For, there, the Lord took His body, which ‘mystically’ is the Church united with Him. There the bride (Church) is created to he united with Her Divine Bridegroom.
To this effect Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 429) says :
“The holy Mary is the workshop of the union of natures, the market place of the salutary exchange, the bridal chamber wherein the Word espoused flesh”.
To this effect I excerpt some quotations from the sayings of the Fathers:
* Chastely Christ opened the chaste womb, so that thence man also might similarly be reborn.
* Those who proclaimed Him Emmanuel, born of the Virgin, (: 14) proclaimed also the union of the Word of God to His handiwork,
“because the Word will become flesh,
and the Son of God will become the Son of man, the Pure one opening purely that pure womb, which generate men into God…”
* Christ opened the silent, spotless and fruitful womb of the Holy Church, for the birth of God’s people.
* Your divine birth, O Lord, gave birth to all creatures
Mankind gave birth to You in the body; and You gave birth to mankind in spirit..
Praise to You, who became a Child,
to make all things new!
St. Ephram the Syrian
* As Christ appropriated a body taken from a woman and was engendered by her according to the flesh, He recapitulated in Himself the generation of man.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
* We affirm that the Only Begotten Son became man (oikonomia).. so that, horn of a woman according to the flesh, He might recapitulate in Himself the human race and by the flesh united to Him, He might incorporate all in Himself .
St. Cyril of Alexandria
* From on high came the divine Word, and in your (St.Mary’s) holy womb reformed Adam (new creation in Christ).
St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker
* The Son of God has become the Son of David;
do not doubt that you, a son of Adam, may become the son of God.
If God had stooped to such an extreme depth, He has not done so in vain, but to raise us to a sublime height.
He was born of flesh that you might be born again according to the spirit!
He was born of a woman that you might become a child of God.
St. John Chrysostom
* The Son of God made Himself man, that we might welcome Him as a member of our own family, and despite our sins we might be born again to hope….
* We have fled far away from our Teacher, leaving behind the grace He offered us; and what does this Master in His mercy?
He pursues the fugitive to bring him back.
He approaches him not clothed in majesty but with a lowly aspect adopted in Mary’s womb, and in that guise becomes his familiar and his friend, making Himself a servant with us that we may became masters with Him.
Theodosius of Ancyra
St. Mary’s Virginity & Spiritual Virginity
In the Old Testament a virgin, without hope of marriage and motherhood, was in the same position as the childless woman, a sad state and a sign of God’s wrath.
In the New Testament, the Virgin, for the first and last time, gave birth to the Messiah, i.e., her virginity is no longer a matter of shame since it has become fruitful by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Virginity became a sign of the intimacy between God and man. For this reason St. Paul calls the Church “Christ’s Virgin”. And in the book of Revelation the unnumbered crowd of God’s elect are represented by 144,000 virgins who “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes” (14: 4, 5).
On this account, virginity is correlated with sanctity, but not in the way that every virgin is considered as a holy one, and every holy person must be a virgin, lest we devalue the Christian marriage which is holy. What we mean is that the literal virginity is merely a sign of the spiritual one. Virginity – in its essence – is the total consecration to God and permanent union with Him in Jesus Christ. It is a virginity of soul, heart, mind, senses and desires, which Christians can receive by the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies, souls and spirits, preparing us for the eternal wedding feast.
* (Virginity) is honoured not for itself, but because it is dedicated to God.
* (Virginity) is a necessary door to a holier life……..
It is the channel which draws down the Deity to share man’s state, it creates wings for man’s desire to rise to heavenly things, and it is a bond of union between the Divine and the human, by its mediation bringing into harmony these existence’s so widely divided
* It has been proven as well that this union of the soul with the incorruptible Deity can be accomplished in no other way than by attaining the greatest possible purity – a state which, being like God, will enable one to grasp that state of virginity which reflects the purity of God like a mirror in which one’s own image becomes moulded with beauty at the touch and sight of the Archetype of all beauty..
St. Gregory of Nyssa
* (Sermon on Christmas Day)
On this day the virginal birth is celebrated by the virgin church …..
The virginity which Christ desires in the heart of the Church He assured first in the body of Mary.
But the Church can only he virginal if she has a spouse, to whom she can give herself entirely, and He is the Virgin’s Son.
* Your virginity should be something spiritual. There cannot be many in the Church who are physically virgins,
but spiritually everyone of the faithful should be a virgin
Watch therefore, watch o my soul, and guard your own virginity.
* Christ’s mother is a virgin, and likewise is His bride, the Church.
* Your example is now the life of Mary, from which shines forth, as from a mirror, all the beauty of Chastity and the pattern of every virtue..
Emmanuel, whom you had brought
forth, preserved you in incorruption,
and kept your virginity sealed!
Theotokia of Saturday 7:2
Did St. Mary remain a virgin while giving birth to Jesus?- This question was raised early perhaps from the first century, and many orthodox and apocryphal works discuss this question.
Early Apocryphal Documents
There are three early apocryphal documents, of the second century, affirming St. Mary’s perpetual virginity:
- In “the Ascension of Isaiah” we read that, “her womb was found the same as before she had conceived”.
- According to the “Odes of Solomon”, she travailed and brought forth a son without incurring pain.
- The “protoevangelium of James” relates that a woman called Salome “made trial of St. Mary’s virginity soon after Jesus’ birth”.
If we leave aside the details mentioned in these documents they in fact reveal a strong current of popular opinion in the second century, that St. Mary did not cease to be a virgin in giving birth to the Lord.
The Patristic Thought
“Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh from our holy and glorious lady, Mother of God “OeotOKoc” and evervirgin “aetpap0evoc” Mary”.
He is not the first Father who believes in St. Mary’s perpetual virginity, i.e., before Christ’s birth (ante-portum), in childbirth (in portum) and afterwards (post-portum).
In the second century, St. Irenaeus takes , where the prophet foretells a remarkable repopulation of Jerusalem through Mother Zion and interprets it as spoken of the Virgin Mary who gave birth to a man child in unique fashion, without birth bangs. “Also concerning His birth, the same prophet (Isaiah) says in another place: “Before she who was in labour brought forth, and before pains of labour came, there came forth delivered a man child. He proclaimed this unlooked for an extraordinary childbirth of the Virgin , thus affirming her virginity.
In Egypt St. Clement states that St. Mary continued as a virgin, refusing the assumption that she became a woman owing to the birth of her Son.
“A certain tradition has come to us to this effect.. Mary, after giving birth to the Saviour, went in to adore and stood in that place for virgins (in the Temple). Those who knew that she had borne a son tried to keep her away, but Zachary said to them: She is worthy of the place of virgins, for she is still a virgin”.
“It would have been unbecoming to attribute to anyone other than Mary the title of ‘The First of Virgins’.”
Hereafter I cite some quotations from the sayings of the Fathers concerning St. Mary’s perpetual virginity:
* We are ignorant of many things, as for instance, how the Infinite is in a womb, how He that contains all things is carried, and born, by a woman, how the Virgin gives birth and continues a Virgin?
* The womb of the holy virgin, which ministered to an immaculate birth did not annul the virginity, nor did the virginity impede so great a birth.
St. Gregory of Nyssa
* Only Christ opened the closed gates of her virginal womb, and yet the gates remained unfailingly closed.
* Although the door was shut, Jesus entered into the sepulchre that was Mary, which was new and hewn in hardest rock, no one either before and afterwards was laid. She is a “garden closed, a fountain sealer” (Cant. 4:12).
She is the eastern gate, which Ezekiel speaks of (14:2), as always shut and full of light; which, closing on itself, brings forth from itself the Holy of Holies; whereby the order of Melchisdech, enters in and goes out.
Let them tell me how Jesus entered when the doors were closed and I will answer how holy Mary is both mother and virgin; virgin after childbirth, and mother before she married.
* If in His birth her virginity had been destroyed from that moment He would not have been born of a virgin, and the whole Church would falsely have proclaimed, which God forbid, that He was born of the Virgin Mary.
* Just as (the Lord) made His entrance when the doors were closed, in the same way did He come forth from the Virgin’s womb, because this virgin really and truly gave birth without pain…. Her virginity remained safe and sound.
St. Ephram the Syrian
* The Lord Jesus would never has chosen to he born of a virgin if He had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human inter-course the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the Eternal King!
Bishop Siricius (392)
* O marvellous mystery! Mary was virgin after marriage, virgin after conception and remained virgin after childbirth .
Finally if anything had been better than virginity, the Son of God would rather have given that to His mother, whereas He gave her to rejoice in the honour of divine virginity.
Fr. Zeno of Verona (d. 372)
* (In his comparison between the Lord’s birth and His resurrection, St.Ephram describes the birth in the following terms) :
When the glorious Spouse wished to go forth, He left the virginal organs asleep, so that they should not feel His going forth.
St. Ephram the Syrian
* Nature no longer acknowledges a virgin after childbirth, but grace made her parent and kept her virgin, grace made her mother and did not violate her virginity..
O earth unsown that flowered forth fruit that saves!
O virgin who surpasses Eden’s garden of delights!..
The virgin is made more glorious than paradise. For paradise was cultivated by God, but Mary cultivated God Himself according to the flesh, willing as He was to be united to man’s nature.
Fr. Theodotus of Ancyra (432)
Vow of Virginity
According to the apocryphal work “protoevangelium” of James, which reflects the popular trends of second century, St. Mary was born of Joachim and Anne, when they were already old. The mother vowed that she would serve the Lord all her life.
At the age of three, she was presented to the Temple, where she was nourished by angels. According to the Coptic tradition the Marian feast of “her presentation to the Temple” is celebrated on the third of Keiahk”, in which we remember the Child Mary as a virgin lives among the virgins. We sing the following two hymns:
“At the age of three,
you were presented to the Temple, O Mary.
You came as a dove,
and the angels hurried to you”.
“She was among the virgins,
praising and giving hymns with them,
when she entered the Temple in glory and honour.”
At the age of twelve, the priests assembled to discuss what they had to do with Mary as she should leave the Temple. They called twelve men from the tribe of Judah and deposited their rods at the Temple. On the next day, the high-priest Abiathar brought the rods and gave each one his rod. As St. Joseph stretched his hand to receive his rod, immediately a dove went forth from its top, whiter than snow and most beautiful, and fluttering a long time among the pinnacles of the temple, until at last it flew towards the heavens. Then all the people congratulated the old man, saying “You become blessed in your old age, father Joseph, in that God has shown you fit to receive Mary”.
St. Joseph, at first refused because of his age, but then obeyed when the priests threatened him with the wrath of God .
Marriage or Betrothal !!
According to the Jewish tradition, the nuptial consists of two steps: betrothal and marriage proper. After certain financial arrangements, the couple were betrothed to one another in the house of the bride. The betrothal was in every respect equivalent to our marriage except without any sexual relationship. The betrothed woman was called the man’s wife; and she became widow if her betrothed died, and she claimed the financial settlement accorded to a wife when widowed or divorced. In case of infidelity she was liable to the same punishment as an adulterous wife. Like a wife she could not be dismissed without a bill of divorce.
If the betrothed woman had not been married previously, she usually waited a year before the second step, the marriage proper, was taken .
Now, we can understand why St. Mary was called “St. Joseph’s wife”, although they were betrothed and not married.
Someone might ask if there was an agreement between St. Mary and St. Joseph to live in virginity even after the second step of marriage was taken?
St. Augustin confirms this in his comment on St. Mary’s question to the angel: “How shall this be since I know not man!?” (), saying :
“Surely she would not say that, unless she had previously vowed her virginity to God” and intended to keep it.
Helvidius, in the fourth century, used the sentence of St. “and he did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn Son”, to indicate that the gospel opposed the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, as Jesus was her firstborn Son Who had other brothers, also sons of Mary.
St. Jerome answered: “It is the custom of the Scriptures to designate with the title “firstborn” not one who subsequently has brothers or sisters, but one who is born first”. (See: : I9-20) As St. Jerome stated so trenchantly, from scriptural sources, “Every only child is a firstborn child but not every firstborn is an only child”.
Likewise, the expression “he did not know her until she brought forth her firstborn Son” by no means necessarily implies that St. Joseph “Knew her” after the birth of Christ. For the term “until” does not in any way prejudicate what may happen in the future. For example, when the Scripture states “No son was born to Michol, the daughter of Saul until her dying day”, it does not mean that she bore a son after her death.
The Brothers of Jesus
Around the year 382 A.D. Helvidius wrote a book asserting that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage, and that Mary later gave birth to other children, “the brothers of Jesus” mentioned in the Gospel. This book has not survived, but its arguments are well-known because of St. Jerome’s reply to it.
They refer to the expression mentioned in the Gospel “brothers of Jesus” (), ().
The Great Origen says, “No one whose opinion on Mary is sound would claim that she had any child save Jesus”. What, then, does the Gospel mean by the words “the brothers of Jesus”?
- The Epiphanian View
The writer of the apocryphal work “Protoevangelium of James”, in defending the virginity of St. Mary, referred to “the brothers of Jesus” as sons of St. Joseph from a previous marriage. Some Coptic, Syrian and Greek documents followed the same idea.
Even some great Fathers did the same, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hegesippus, Eusebius of Caesarea, Hilary of Potiers, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose, and Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus who advocated this idea warmly so that it was attributed to him.
Nevertheless, this idea is rejected by some theologians for the following reasons:
- If these brothers of Jesus were in fact older than Jesus, having born of an earlier marriage, why are they not mentioned in the Infancy narratives, especially the escape to Egypt?
- The impression left by the Gospel () concerning the story of Jesus in the temple is that even twelve years after Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family consists of the three persons only.
- Matthew refers to Jesus as the heir of Joseph, the son of David; but if there were other older brothers of Jesus, (sons of Joseph) Jesus would not have been his heir.
- If Jesus had brothers, He would leave His mother in their home and would not trust her to John.
- St. Jerome’s View
St. Jerome replies that the term “brothers” is used in the Holy Scripture for:
- Blood brotherhood.
- Common nationality.
- The close relatives.
In the case of the Lord’s brothers, the third meaning applies. Abraham called his brother’s son, Lot, his brother (), and Laban used the same term for his son-in-law ().
It is well-known that at that time cousins were called brothers, for they often lived under one roof in one large family. Until today the same term is used in some villages in Upper Egypt, where they feel very ashamed when a person does not call his cousin “brother”. In the Aramic language all these types of relationships were referred to simply as “brothers”.
According to St. Jerome’s theory, the brothers of Jesus were the sons of St. Mary of Clopas, the wife of Alphaeus and the sister of Virgin Mary ().
Fr. TADROUS Y. MALATY
 Theotokia is a hymn praises St. Mary the Theotokos “Mother of God”
 J. B. Carol: Mariology, 1955, Vol. 1, p. 51
 Schaefera Brossart: The Mother of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, p. 63 f.
 Psalia (Adam) for Sunday.
 Akathistos (not sitting) hymn, is sung on the fifth Saturday of the Lent
 The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus 21:15
 St. lgnatius: Epist. Ad Ephes. 19:1
 John McHaugh: The Mother of Jesus in the N.T., N.Y. 1975, p. 339
 Max Thurian: Mary, Mother of all Christians, N.Y. 1964. p. 32
 Encomium on holy Mary, Theotokos 1:1
 Adv. Hear.4:33:11.PG7:1080
 Ibid 4 : 33 : 12 PG 7 : 1181
 Com. On Luke 2:57 PG 15:1573
 Hymn 3 on Nativity
 PG 76 : 23
 PG 76:15-18
 PG 10:1151
 In Mat., hom. 2.2
 In Sanctam Delporem, hom 4
 De Sacr. Virginitate 8. PL 40:400
 De Virginitate 2, 11
 Serm. 178:4 PL 38:1005
 DeVirginibus 1:5:22 PL 16:195
 Ibid2:2:6 PL 16:208
 R. H. Charles: The Ascension of Isaiah, London 1900, p. 74-76
 Odes of Solomon 19:8
 Protoevangelium of James 18 – 20
 Hilda Graef: Mary, A History ofDoctrine & Devotion, London 1963, vol. 1,
 St. Peter of Alexandria: Frag 7. PG 18:517
 St.Irenaeus:Demonstratis apostolicae praedications, 54. (Pat. Orientalis 12:701); Carol, vol. 2, p. 104, 105
 Stromata, lib 7:16
 In PG 12:493f
 Com. In
 Contra Arianos 2:70
 Quasten: Patrology, vol. 3, p. 99
 Ibid. p. 476. Hom. In
 De Virginitate 19
 Epist. to Pammachius 49 (48): 21
 Dialogue against Pelagianos
 Enchiridion ad Laurentium 34. PG 40:249 Ancient Christian Writings, vol. 3, p. 42
 Explanatis evangelli concordantis, .
 Epist to Anysius Bishop of Thessalonica
 Trectatus 1:5:3
 St. Ephram Syri Hymni et Sermones, ed. T. 1. Lemy, vol. 2, p. 573-6 K. McNamara: Mother of the Redeemer, N.Y., 1960 p. 114
 On the Nativity of our Saviour 2, Palmer p, 52
 Protoevangelium of James, 8, 9
 W. L. Strack & P. L Billenbeck: Kommentar Zum Neuen Testamentaus Talmud und Midrasi, Munchen, 1924, vol. 2, p. 377-394
 St. Augustine: De Sacra Virginitate 4. PL 45:398
 St. Jerome: In Mat. PL 26:26
 St. Jerome: Adversus Helvidium de Perpetua Virginitate Beatae Mariae. PL 23:202. J. B. Carol: Mariology, vol. 2, p. 233.
 Jovinianus died c. 405, an unorthodox monk, condemned twice: in Rome under Siricius (390) and in Milan under Ambrose (391). He denied that virginity as such was a higher state than marriage. He also teaches that fasting has no greater merit than thankful eating, and there is no inequality based on status in life in heavenly reward, and that those who receive baptism in full faith cannot be led again into sin. St. Jerome wrote two books against him, and St. Augustine did the same.
 He was deposed after the Council of Capua (391).
 McHaugh: The Mother of Jesus in the N.T.,