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I am looking into the Eastern Orthodox church, and was wondering why believing that Mary was a perpetual virgin was an important belief? Now I don't have a real problem if tradition holds that she was a perpetual virgin, and then it makes sense as some sort of historical fact about Mary. But it seems like the belief is more important than just historical fact. There are many prayers to the Theotokos (Mary) that refer to her as "ever virgin." If church tradition held that Jesus had blue eyes, I would have no reason to doubt it, but I wouldn't insert "oh blue eyed one" into my prayers to Jesus.

If Mary had married Joseph and then had sexual relations within her holy marriage, there is nothing sinful or less worthy about her in my mind. The impression I am getting is that perhaps celibacy is seen as a higher calling than marriage, and I don't think I believe that is true to the Gospel. Being celibate might be a calling for some, like Paul, who needed to be away on travels a lot, and wouldn't be there for a family were he to get married. But we can be faithful to God in our local communities as well (such as our local priest) and his mission is no less important than the ministry of the celibate man.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. That's an interesting question. Please take the tour and visit the help center, and take a look at how we are different from other sites. We are even different from other SE sites you may be used to due to our core subject matter. With about 2000 years of various disagreements on the core topic, keeping a favorable signal-to-noise- ratio (an SE objective) takes extra effort. Once again Welcome, and I hope you get a good answer to your question. I'll bet the over that you do. ;-) – KorvinStarmast May 19 '17 at 0:18
  • Related (and I'm betting the same answer): christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/53209/… – Matt Gutting May 19 '17 at 0:50
  • I looked at the Catholic answer and there are some statements that don't align with Orthodox theology. I can't write an answer at the moment (maybe someone else will) but the Roman Catholic answer shouldn't be assumed to be the same as the Orthodox. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy differ radically in their understandings of grace and free will and this is reflected in their Mariologies as well. – guest37 May 19 '17 at 9:02
  • Oh - thanks @guest37. (Learn something new every day!) – Matt Gutting May 19 '17 at 13:36
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Among other things, the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos is understood to be the fulfillment of a prophesy by Ezekiel (44:2)1:

This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.

This meaning is ascribed to the verse by a number of Church Fathers, included Methodius of Olympus2 (d.311), Cyril of Alexandria3 (378-444), Jerome4 (347-420). The Ever-Virginity of Mary was a pervasive doctrine of the first millennium Church, as witnessed by John of Damascus (676-749) in his summary of the Faith, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith:

The ever-virgin One thus remains even after the birth still virgin, having never at any time up till death consorted with a man. For although it is written, And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born Son [Matthew 1:25], yet note that he who is first-begotten is first-born even if he is only-begotten. For the word “first-born” means that he was born first, but does not at all suggest the birth of others. And the word “till” signifies the limit of the appointed time but does not exclude the time thereafter. For the Lord says, And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world [Matthew 18:20], not meaning thereby that He will be separated from us after the completion of the age. The divine apostle, indeed, says, And so shall we ever be with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17], meaning after the general resurrection.5

John continues with an explanation which underlines why it is unacceptable within Orthodox doctrine to accept that the Virgin did not remain so after the Nativity: "For could it be possible that she, who had borne God and from experience of the subsequent events had come to know the miracle, should receive the embrace of a man. God forbid!"

The above explains, I think, why the ever-virginity of Mary is an important belief, but it perhaps does not explain why the accolade of "Ever-Virgin" is frequently included in the prayers of the Church.

Although it is certainly possible to look upon the texts of Orthodox Services as nothing more than scripts for the choir, they actually serve a much deeper meaning. Each Orthodox Service can be seen as a theological lesson. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev states:

The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, even higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the other hand, have been accepted by the whole Church as a “rule of faith” (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries. Throughout this time, any erroneous ideas foreign to Orthodoxy that might have crept in either through misunderstanding or oversight were eliminated by Church Tradition itself, leaving only pure and authoritative doctrine clothed by the poetic forms of the Church’s hymns.6

Arguably, Jesus having had blue eyes - which receives no mention whatsoever in Scripture or the writings of the Fathers - does not merit the sort of theological lesson of sorts as does the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos. You will find similar theologically-laced accolades for other things throughout the service books. God is repeatedly referred to with the prefix "all merciful" or sometimes with the suffix "the lover of mankind". The Apostles are called "praiseworthy" or "wise". Sometimes the Theotokos is referred to as "all-pure". All these things are little reminders of Orthodox doctrine that are heard throughout the service.


1 Elder Cleopa of Romania, The Truth of Our Faith , p.87
2 Oration concerning Simeon and Anna
3 Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, Sermon I
4 Letter XLVIII, 21; also Against Pelagius II
5 Book IV, Chapter XIV
6 Orthodox Worship as a School of Theology

  • "John continues with an explanation which underlines why it is unacceptable within Orthodox doctrine to accept that the Virgin did not remain so after the Nativity: "For could it be possible that she, who had borne God and from experience of the subsequent events had come to know the miracle, should receive the embrace of a man. God forbid!" - This sounds to me that John of Damascus thinks that human sex even within holy matrimony is some sort of inferior act. Perhaps not sinful, but just put up with. But I don't think this lines up with the holiness attributed to marriage found in Matt 19:5 – David P May 19 '17 at 20:08
  • Is this the reason its important? Still not getting it. – David P May 19 '17 at 20:14
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    It's not about the sinfulness or holiness of sex. It's about having something "merely human" come into a place which had been reserved for God Himself. – Matt Gutting May 20 '17 at 15:27
  • @DavidP Try reading the 1st Ep of Clement on Virginity, e.g. ‘[E]very virgin who is in God is holy in her body and in her spirit, and is constant in the service of her Lord, not turning away from it any whither, but waiting upon Him always in purity and holiness in the Spirit of God, being “solicitous how she may please her Lord,” by living purely and without stain, and solicitous to be pleasing before Him in every thing.’ The Mother of God is the Virgin among virgins, the acme of innocence, perfection to uphold in the greatest honor, & the most powerful intercessor ever: all super-important. – Greta Hoostal May 18 at 16:59
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I hope you don't mind an answer from a Catholic, seeing we agree on this with the Orthodox Christians.

To ask why something needs to be the case, or the truth, is strange. But I see you are asking why it is so integral that Mary be believed to be ever-virgin, or, perpetual virgin, not why it is true.

The answer is because it is true. That is, because it's true it's not negligable like the rest of the Christological or Mariological facts (they are more related than you'd think). It's believed and recieved just as much as the written Word of God was recieved.

Among the Fathers of the Church it was simply the orthodox (correct, traditional) consensus and a part of the Faith. See for example St. Jerome's Against Helvidius, for a more formal rebuttal of the inverse of the orthodox truth; the heresy of denying the perpetual virginity of Mary.

(I personally argue that the fact she was consistently called "the Virgin" and variations of that 'title' more than strongly imply this truth that she did not have other children apart from Christ.)

You said:

"If church tradition held that Jesus had blue eyes, I would have no reason to doubt it, but I wouldn't insert "oh blue eyed one" into my prayers to Jesus."

But imagine if the someone claimed the Ark of the Covenant was made of perishable wood and was covred in clay instead of gold. And imagine if the Ark was a person.

Well, Mary is shown in the New Testament to be, undeniably, the Ark of the New Covenant. With implications.

For preliminary reasons:

ARK OF THE [OLD] COVENANT


● A symbol of the Presence of God making His dwelling with man

(NEW) ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT (MARY)


● In which God was truly and physically present with us


● God’s Glory Cloud overshadowed (Greek Septuagint episkiasei) the Tent and the Glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle (abode) of God with the Ark of the Covenant in it ● The Spirit of God overshadowed (Greek NT episkiasei) Mary and she was filled with, and was made the dwelling place of “the Lord of Glory” in her home.


● Ark was being brought to the house of Obed-edom in the hill country of Judea ● Mary travelled to the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the hill country of Judea


● Cymbals and harps and lyres etc were played to play music before the Ark, and right after: ● David danced and lept joyously before the Ark


● At the sound of Mary’s voice: ● John the Baptist lept for joy in Elizabeth’s womb in Mary’s presence


● David rejoices with “shouts and sound of the trumpets” in the presence of the Ark ● Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud voice” to Mary praises of her being “blessed among women” (cf. Judith 13:18)


● Stays at the house of Obed-edom for three months ● Stays at the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months


● Contained the Word of God (Tablets of the Old Covenant and Law) engraved on stone ● Contained the Word of God made flesh, who brought the New Law of His New Covenant


● Contained the rod of the highpriest Aaron ● Contained the "great Highpriest...Jesus the Son of God"


● Contained Manna (their sustenance/food) from Heaven ● Contained the Bread of Life, Jesus, “who [came] from heaven”, who was born in BethLechem ('house-of-bread').


● God’s presence literally dwelt on the Ark ● God literally dwelt inside Mary


● Is covered within and without with the purest gold by virtue of its being the dwelling/visiting place of the Most High God. ● Of most pure virtue, and (perpetual virginity (Ezekiel 44:1-2), and without stain sin by virtue of the One to whom she would give flesh and be the mother of.

Or said beautifully by Athanatius of Alexandria: “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O [Ark of the] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides.” (Athanasius of Alexandria, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin ~370AD) Other very significant prophetical elements of the Ark of the Covenant:

ARK OF THE [OLD] COVENANT


Exodus 25:10 "And they shall make an ark of shittim wood..." Even in the Septuagint, this is rendered 'incorruptable wood', i.e. imperishable wood, because it is a specific type of wood that doesn't rot. (Exodus 37:1)

Exodus 37:2 And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a crown of gold for it round about."

● The people prayed as though through the medium of the Ark to the Lord (Joshua 7:6-9, 1 Chronicles 13:3, Judges 20:27) and it was the cause of many miracles (Dividing the Jordan Joshua 4:7, Fall of Dagon 1 Samuel 5:1-4, Bringing Down of the Walls of Jericho Joshua 6:6-20 etc)

ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT (MARY)


● All existing Traditions about Mary are such that Mary did not decay/see corruption (but she did die, like her Son did) because she did not suffer this consequence of Original Sin, from which she was preserved.

● Mary is the Queen in the Davidic Kingdom, since Christ now sits as King, and in the Davidic Kingdom, the mother of the king was the Queen. Mary is the new Queen (Psalm 45:9, Revelation 12:1, ) and mother of those in Christ, who is our best advocate with Christ, as His holy and beloved mother (1 Kings 2:17–20).

● People have always prayed to Mary as a chief intercessor on their behalf with Christ ("Pray for us that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ", "Pray for us sinners now and at the our of hour death" etc) as a most potent means of asking God with great success, even when we ourselves are far less worthy to be receive than His blessed mother to ask. She has worked many miracles throughout the Christian era, the era of Christ.

The fulfillment of an Old Testament type is always, without exception greater in every sense to its former shadow, "even as one's shadow is inferior to himself", as Thomas Aquinas said.

So if the Ark was the "glory" of Israel, and was "the holy Ark" (2 Chroincles 35:3), then Mary was also extremely holy indeed. (same "you are the glory of Israel" is said of Judith (Judith 15:9), an amazing type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, too!)

Now given this, might we expect the Ark to be somehow connected with Mary, the bearer of the Christ and His mother, to be made somewhere explicitly? Well, we find such a thing in Revelation 12! Consider a little context, firstly:

In chapter 11, which precedes it, the context is unrelated to the Ark, and relates the unleashing blowing of the angel's trumpet,woes etc.

Notice, it is a short chapter, and ends abruptly with:

"Then there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the Ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail."

The end. Now, I don't know about you, but that is an abrupt and unnaturally mysterious ending to a chapter(even for Revelation). Well, we're in luck. Luckily, the Apostles didn't separate their books of the New Testament into chapters or verses.The original manuscripts are just free-running texts. In other words, the 'chapters' and 'verses' are for reading ease _and are man made—centuries later additions for translations.

Well, it seems John did not end there when he introduced the Ark.

He 'explains' it with a certain 'Woman'.

So just after revelation 11:19, the original manuscripts does not change to a different chapter, it continues (to Revelation 12:1...)!

"And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun*, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: she was pregnant and crying out, and in pain to give birth." (v1)

This particular Woman gives birth to Jesus Christ. This Woman is Mary. This Woman has overtones of the church, too, and has been interpreted as both at the same time (we're dealing with highly symbolic stuff here in revelation, after all):

"And she [the Woman] brought forth a male child, who was to 'rule all nations with an iron rod': and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne." (v5)

Clearly, her Son is Jesus Christ. Clearly, this is symbolizing Mary, then. Funny how she is the description of the vision of abrupt vision the Ark as we might predict!

* Symbolic of her being the ark which was covered with pure gold? (cf. Ps 45:9; Ex 25:11)


Why am I talking about the Ark of the Covenant?

Well, people who suppose that this pure Ark, Mary, could lie intimately with a man, is to ignore the great reverence and veneration due to the Ark—people were stricken dead by God on the spot for even peering into or touching the Ark, even for 'legitimate' or 'licit' reasons. It is where God Almighty dwelt. Moses had to take his sandals off for even walking on the ground God was present at.

Speaking of legitimate reasons: Is, as you touch on, virginity/'celibacy' related to a higher spiritual calling or is is more valuable or precious. And the answer is yes, it is a higher calling. St. Paul argues exactly so in 1 Corinthians 7:6-8. And so does Jesus in Matthew 19:~10-12. Virginity is also equated with holiness in Revelation 14:4 and elsewhere.

Finally, Mary more than implies she intends to remain virgin, or had taken some kind of vow of virginity. We read when the angel Gabriel greeted her and told her she would concieved and bear a Son, she asked:

"How can this be, seeing I know not man?" (Luke 1:34) This is a Hebraism or euphemism for "I do not have/have not had sexual relations". And she asks it even though already betrothed/married to Joseph (and thus she would know this child would be the result of the consummation of that marriage). The only way to make sense of her question is to acknowledge she had taken a vow of virginity.

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    Thank you for answer, and it does make some sense. Do you think that your answer is consistent with Eastern Orthodox rationales? – David P May 22 '17 at 12:08
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    @KorvinStarmast Thanks, I fixed that. And yes, David, I believe the Orthodox would find nothing objectionable in what I said. I think we share our views on this. To be certain, you'd really have to ask one on here, though. – Sola Gratia May 26 '17 at 21:39
  • @SolaGratia 1. It’s true. I was baptized Russian (Eastern) Orthodox, but I’m married to a Ruthenian. At the Catholic church I was told I already had the Catholic Faith, which I hadn’t expected. (So I was made Russian Byzantine Catholic.) The Orthodox/Catholic Faith is just expressed in ways confusingly different E & W. I’ll quote from our hymns: Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God, Who for our salvation did will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary… (Hymn of Justinian the Great.) Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of your Son! (The Angel Cried.)… – Greta Hoostal May 18 at 16:22
  • @SolaGratia 2. …By your Nativity, O most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness… (Kontakion of the Nativity of the Theotokos.) Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos… (Our version of ‘Hail Mary’.) Rejoice, for you are the King’s throne. Rejoice, you bear Him, Who bears the universe.…Rejoice, you the Pinnacle of His Commandments [cf. 1Co 7:34].…Rejoice, Flower of Incorruption. Rejoice, Crown of self-restraint.…Rejoice, Gate of the sacred Mystery [cf. Ezk 44:2, already quoted]….Rejoice, most excellent Dwelling-place of Him Who is above the Seraphim.…Rejoice, Vessel of the Wisdom of God.… – Greta Hoostal May 18 at 16:24
  • @SolaGratia 3. …As a brilliant beacon-light shining to those in darkness do we behold the Holy Virgin…Rejoice, Tabernacle of God the Word.…Rejoice, Ark made golden by the Spirit.…You are a fortress protecting all virgins, O Theotokos and Virgin; for the Master of heaven and earth prepared you, O Immaculate One, and dwelt in your womb, and taught all to cry out to you: Rejoice, Pillar of virginity. Rejoice, Gate of salvation. (Akathist to the Theotokos.) There are many more vv. like them, but this is prob. enough to make it clear that the Faith is the same. So your answer is excellent. – Greta Hoostal May 18 at 16:26

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