Blessed Mary or the Queen of Heaven?

Blessed Mary or the Queen of Heaven?

“And Mary said:
‘My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.’”

In the Orthodox Church, Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, is called the “Most Holy Mother of God” (Theotokos), “Immaculate” Mary (the “Perpetual Virgin”), the “Most Powerful Protector and Patron” of the Christian family, and the crowned “Queen of Heaven”, which sits on the throne of God.

Before we discuss in detail this belief of Orthodox religion in light of the Bible and ancient history, let us examine Mary’s life based on the Word of God.

MARY IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

MARY IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

The text which describes “our” first historical encounter with her in the apostolic writings is found in Luke 1:26-38:

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

At that time, she grew up as a teenage girl (probably between 14 and 20 years of age, although the evangelists do not tell us this information), lived in Nazareth, and was betrothed to a man named Joseph. Matthew 1:16-25 and Luke 2:5 tell us that Joseph later became the husband of Mary, and that after Jesus’ birth, she bore at least six children:

“When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’”

According to the New Testament, Mary was a modest and pious girl who lived in the house of her parents. Although already betrothed by the custom of that time, she was allowed to spend one more year at home with her parents until the wedding and then move into the house of her husband.

Just at that time, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her the good news about the miraculous conception and the birth of the Son of God. Having heard the angelic message about the conception of the child, Mary was shocked and frightened of his visit.

Although He had made His choice to give birth through Mary, even after the betrothal, the news of her pregnancy frightened her, since she knew that until then she had not had sex with any man. “How will this be since I am still a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The angel’s response was that this child will be the Son of God, and will be conceived of a virgin by the power of the Most High, without the participation of men (Luke 1:35). Mary, the pious girl, calmly replied: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.” (v. 38).

After having spent three months in the house of her cousin Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) in Judea, when John was born, Mary returned to Nazareth. It was the fourth month of pregnancy (Luke 1:56), and Joseph immediately saw that his betrothed was pregnant. He was very distressed by the fact (from his perspective) that Mary had cheated on him and got pregnant by another man. She was unable to persuade him that an angel visited here and told her the child she bore was of divine nature. Out of deep disappointment and pain in his heart, this man could not believe it. He came up with the idea to divorce her without telling most people about it. Otherwise, he would have to make a public announcement that Mary was unfaithful. According to the laws given to Moses by God, it most certainly would have resulted in death by stoning for Mary (Mt. 1:18-21; Dt. 22:13-21).

However, at precisely the time when Joseph planned to secretly separate from Mary, God’s messenger appeared and told Joseph to take Mary as his wife freely and without fear, since the child in her womb was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Obeying the revelation of the Lord, they got married and continued to live in conjugal harmony and honor of the Lord.

It cannot be emphasized enough that Joseph and Mary lived in full marital relations (i.e. they were husband and wife in the true sense of the word). This contradicts the hard-line Orthodox tradition that they were merely relatives. (The Orthodox claim that Joseph was an eighty year old man and took the girl Mary into his home in order to preserve her virginity.) Here are some verses that confirm Joseph was really Mary’s husband:

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

“…to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Also, it is critical to emphasize that Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus, the firstborn and eldest of several siblings to follow, had more children. Joseph abstained from sexual relations with her only during her first pregnancy (Matthew 1:25). In translating the New Testament compiled by the Commission of the Holy Synod of the Archbishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, this verse reads like this:

“And he did not know her until the birth of the firstborn son, and they called Him Jesus.”

Other translators translate this verse in similar ways. So, the word “he did not know” (i.e. “that he did not know”, the translation of Dr. Emilian Carnich) certainly cannot mean that Joseph knew Mary (in terms of introduction, i.e. a first meeting), because in the gospel we read that Mary was already betrothed to Joseph months before the dream, and that means that they already knew each other quite a long time. Also, the writers of the gospel show that Mary traveled with her husband to Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:4-5), and they lived in marital union when the Lord through the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream (five months before they were supposed to travel). However, Scripture tells us that Joseph did not “know” his wife until the birth of Jesus (emphasizing the word “until”, which clearly says that Mary’s husband “knew” his wife after the birth of her firstborn). The term “know your wife” is used in several places in the Bible and it is always a description of the establishment of sexual contact, after which they could produce children. Here are a few examples:

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’”

“And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, ‘For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.’”

“And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, ‘Because I have asked for him from the LORD.’”

The translation of the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church is consistent with other translations of the Bible. They all emphasize that Jesus was the firstborn child of Mary (and not the only child of Mary). This statement is consistent with other New Testament
texts that speak of her other children conceived with Joseph.

The Interrelationship of Jesus and Mary

The Interrelationship of Jesus and Mary

God’s Word informs us that Mary, along with Joseph, took care of Jesus when he grew into an adult. Even during that time, Mary could not fully understand his words and the importance of his mission.

At the time of Jesus, when he was twelve years old, he got separated from his parents and
remained in the Temple in Jerusalem, instead of setting out with them on the road home to Nazareth. Mary rebuked him: “So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’ And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’”

The next verse (Lk. 2:50) reveals that Joseph and his wife did not understand Christ’s response. Nevertheless, regardless of their limited understanding of spiritual truth, the child Jesus was obedient to His parents.

Eighteen years later, he began his Messianic ministry. After the baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ mother once again revealed her misunderstanding of His work and teaching. Of course, as a wonderfully pious woman, she quickly adjusted to the will of God and corrected her ways. Thus, during the wedding at Cana in Galilee, after the host ran out of wine, Mary approached her son and asked him to do something about this issue:

“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’”

In this way, the Lord showed that He was the One who would decide whether to perform messianic signs, instead of submitting to requests from His earthly relatives about the execution of God’s work.

Another occasion (Mark 3:21-22, 31-35) included Jesus giving a sermon and performing some miraculous works to back His claims. Many Jews felt that Jesus’ works came from the Evil One, since they believed that Jesus went mad and came under the influence of demons. (See Jn. 10:20.) Because of her great worry for Jesus, Mary and her sons came to seize and silence Him – in order to protect Him from His opponents. However, as in the first case, Jesus did not allow anyone to interfere with His ministry (even in spite of good but misinformed intentions). Since his mother and brothers in this way demonstrated a misunderstanding of Christ’s activity and a bit of unbelief in the validity of His ministry, the Lord addressed his listeners, showing them as to who actually belong to His family:

“And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.’”

The Apostle John reveals that even Jesus’ physical brothers (half-brothers by his mother) did not believe in His identity up to the resurrection (Jn. 7:3-10). They viewed Jesus in just the same way as the rest of the sinful world did. For these and other reasons, including a partial or even complete rejection of Him by His own blood family, Christ calls all His disciples “brothers, sisters and mother”, saying that they are his real family – those who believe in Him and understand Him.

On another occasion, after he delivered a series of magnificent spiritual lessons to the people who listened to him, one woman, thrilled by this revelation of divine truth, commented to the Lord that His mother must be very blessed and happy to have such a son. However, Christ responded to the words of her statement by saying that those who observe and obey the will of God enjoy a much greater blessing – and thus giving greater evidence that his mother does not enjoy any privileged status in God’s people:

“And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!’ But He said, ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”

These gospel passages clearly indicate that Jesus publicly stated that He considered His mother quite equal to His other disciples. So let us see if sacred tradition conforms to the truth presented in the Bible. As we will notice, this text was written to Mary, “Mother of God”, who was put on par with many millions of Christians who have lived throughout the centuries, as well as those who live today. All human beings were placed in a position superior and privileged over the whole creation. It is about a “vision of Heaven” allegedly seen by the Venerable Gregory, a student of Basil the New in the ninth century after Christ. After a very careful reading of the description of what was “recorded” in the startling vision of Judgment Day allegedly given to Gregory, compare it with the teachings of the Bible. Here is how our Orthodox literature describes this vision:

“The first one he saw was the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. In that hour, the Lord removed from His Immaculate Head a wonderful crown and put it on her head. He said to His Mother, ‘Receive My glory, which My Father gave to Me, for victory over the devil and death which I have overcome, because You received My Body.’ Then He gave her righteous robes with His Royal garb, which He Himself wore as the God-man. He gave her other spiritual gifts, venerating Her in word and deed as His Mother. She then approached Him and sat down on His divine throne in exaltation over all the saints… She exalted the Lord as Lord and King over all the heavenly hosts, who also rejoiced greatly.”

This article gives an adequate summary of what the Orthodox Church believes about Mary. We will discuss these beliefs more in detail later. However, according to the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles inspired by His Spirit, these honors apply to all other Christian believers. Namely, all other believers, who are born again according to God’s Word by the promise of the Lord, will receive God’s glory and sit on the throne of Christ’s divinity – not just Mary. In His intercessory prayer as High Priest, Jesus the Savior in addressing his heavenly Father stated that He would transfer His (divine) glory that He received from the Father to His disciples. Furthermore, Jesus promises to those who keep their faith in Him to the end and overcome sinful temptations that they will sit on His throne:

“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.”

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

In addition to these heavenly rewards which await the faithful of God (including the physical mother of Christ the Lord, who was merely one faithful person among millions), Jesus and the apostles mentioned many other honors. Among them is the right to eat of fruit from the Tree of Life that is in God’s paradise (Rev. 2:7), receiving the crown of life (Rev.
2:10), and receiving power over the nations, ruling over them with an iron rod and the morning star (Rev. 2:26-28). Christ’s believers will be also made a pillar in the temple of God the Father, and the name of God, the New Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name shall be written on them (Rev. 3:12). Every believer will receive from the Lord a white stone written with his new name (Rev. 2:17). According to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, God sent angels to serve and to help those who will inherit salvation (Ps. 34:7, 91:11, 12; Heb. 1:14; Rev. 19:10; 22:8). Thus, the apostle Paul could declare that the saints shall judge the world (unbelieving people) and angelic beings (1 Cor. 6:3), all of which once again points to the glory of redeemed people in relation to the rest of creation. This glory is not exclusive to Mary.

So, as we observed, efforts Orthodox followers through such heavenly “visions” and other extrabiblical “revelations” to exalt Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the Mother of God superior to all other believers simply fall short of truth. Namely, Scripture testifies to the full equality before God of Christ’s earthly followers, including his mother through whom His Father gave Jesus a human nature. However, despite the fact that the Lord Jesus has not exalted His mother to the top of the heavens, as the Orthodox believe, He, as the perfect Son, always worried about her, especially after the death of his stepfather and guardian Joseph. As He was obedient to her in His youth, so He also cared for her even a few moments before His death on the cross. Knowing that her husband had died and she had not remarried (Mark 6:3), and the children had not yet become His disciples (Jn. 7:5), Christ the Lord in that moment entrusted the care of his mother to His youngest apostle John (John 19:25-27).

But regarding specifically this New Testament text that describes the delegation of Mary’s care to John, the Orthodox Church wants to affirm its teaching that Jesus’ mother did not have any other children (because in that case, they believe, Mary would have been cared for by her other children). However, Eastern Orthodox theologians overlook some biblical facts mentioned before regarding this controversial issue. At this point I want to briefly mention them.

As stated earlier, John’s gospel mentions the fact that Mary, Jesus’ mother was present at the cross where her son was crucified:

“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”

Surprisingly, none of the other evangelists in their gospels mention this event, not even the presence of the mother of Jesus at the cross. However, they do point out that certain females were present. Of course, it would have been a big neglect for the Apostles themselves to have forgotten her – if, in fact, she actually were present there (as the Apostle John wrote she was). The remaining gospels indeed offer us other descriptions of Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew describes Mary as the mother of James and Joses. Mark mentions Mary as the mother of James the younger and Joseph, and Luke lists a number of women who had come with Jesus from Galilee:

“And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome.”

“But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

As stated before, the gospels inform us that Jesus’ mother with her husband Joseph had several sons (and daughters). Among those children were James and Joseph (who was also known by his other name of Joses). On one occasion, after a noteworthy discussion with Christ, some of the people of Nazareth who knew Jesus from childhood began to mock Him, saying:

“Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?”

“’Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ So they were offended at Him.”

Of course, what the Nazarenes did not recognize is that Jesus was not the son of Joseph,
but the Son of God. They were certainly aware that after the birth of Jesus, who was the firstborn, Mary gave birth to several children in the house of Joseph. Therefore, based on the gospel accounts, we can deduce the following about one woman who was present at Christ’s crucifixion:

(1) Mary was the mother of Jesus. (John 19:26-7)
(2) Mary was the mother of James and Joses. (Mt. 27:55-6; Mk. 15:40)
(3) James and Joses were brothers by blood relationship of Jesus. (Mt. 13:55-6; Mk. 6:3)
(4) Mary was from Nazareth, located in Galilee, where she raised Jesus as a boy in His earthly hometown. (Lk. 23:49; Mt. 13:55-6)
(5) Mary is mentioned in all four gospels – Mary, the mother of Jesus, who came from Galilee, is the same as Mary, the mother of James and Joses.
(6) Therefore, Mary had other children and thus was not a “perpetual virgin” as alleged by Orthodox apologists.

On the day of Christ’s resurrection, early in the morning, some of the women who were with Him came to His grave. The reason for their visit to the tomb was to anoint Jesus’ dead body which had been removed a few days earlier from the tree (wooden cross) and laid in a tomb which was owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Mt. 27:57-60). Although the Lord repeatedly had told His disciples that He would resurrect from the dead on the third day after the crucifixion , they did not believe Him (Mark 16:9-14). Thus, even the women who came to the tomb of Jesus did not do so because they expected to confirm the reality of His resurrection. Rather, they were convinced that He was still dead. To complete the rite of burial, they wanted to complete the anointing of the corpse that they failed to do when the body was taken to the grave. That day was the Sabbath, the day of rest (which began on Friday after sunset, Jn. 19:42):

“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”

“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.”

“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.”

From all these texts, we see the presence of Mary, mother of the Lord, during the crucifixion, burial and “unsuccessful” anointment of Jesus, with the difference that the apostles called her the mother of James and Joses. Nevertheless, a clear question arises from these texts: why do some of the gospel writers refer to Jesus’ mother in this manner?

As we know, the evangelists wrote down their accounts of the events of Jesus’ life only a few decades after his ascension to Heaven, rather than immediately when they occurred (in other words, they did not just write articles quickly like journalists). In the meantime, the brothers of Jesus whom John described as not believing in Him during Christ’s earthly mission (Jn. 7:5), then went on to believe in the Lord after his resurrection. The book of Acts reveals that they all had joined the apostles and other believers during the first meetings of the Church:

“And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”

At the time of the murder of the apostle James (brother of John, Acts 12:2), James, the Lord’s brother, was the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7, Gal. 2:9, 12). The Apostle Paul, during his visit to this one Church, met the son of Mary and said:

“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”

It is obvious that Paul was familiar with the fact that Jesus had brothers “in the flesh,” who were sons of Mary, not just from Joseph’s first marriage (as the Orthodox believe, and which will be discussed in more detail later). If these brothers had only come from Joseph’s previous marriage, Paul would have been mistaken to call James the brother of the Lord. However, they both knew that James was the son of Mary.

In the same way as James became one of the first leaders of the church (and author of the Epistle of James), so someone named Judas became the author of the Epistle of Jude named after him. This Judas also was a half-brother of Jesus, not the apostle who called himself “Judas, son of James”. We note that from Jude’s own epistle, where the author James calls himself a brother of James and a servant of Jesus Christ. He does not call himself an “apostle” – in contrast to the way Peter and Paul introduce themselves at the beginning of their epistles. Also, the writer in Jude 17 excludes himself from the company of the original Apostles: “But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Precisely because these half-brothers of Jesus became prominent teachers in the Church at the turn of the first half and the second century, they became well-known among a wide circle of believers at the time when the New Testament gospels and writings were recorded. When Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote about Jesus’ mother as a participant in the events surrounding His death and resurrection, they referred to her as the mother of these famous leaders in the first century church. It is hard to believe at that time (when Jesus’ disciples were few – after His death, many deserted Him – see John 6:66) there were still some of Mary’s children that bore the same name of the mother as did our Lord.

In this way, we have seen most of the details pertaining to the life of Christ’s mother Mary and His close relatives. I intentionally omitted all other details for now so that we can examine them later in this chapter when discussing “Mary in the tradition of the Orthodox Church.”

MARY IN SACRED TRADITION

MARY IN SACRED TRADITION

“The Orthodox Church reveres the Virgin Mary as “more honorable than the cherubim and incomparably more famous than the seraphim”, the One who surpasses all creatures. The Church views her as the Mother of God and the Intercessor before the Son for the entire human race and Who prays for all people without other mediation. Love and veneration for the Virgin is the soul of Orthodox piety, its heart that warms and
revives the entire body… Whoever does not venerate Mary does not know Jesus nor have faith in Christ. Whatever religion itself does not include reverence for the Virgin is a different faith, an apostasy to Christianity apart from the teaching of the Church.”

“The mother of Jesus was a pure godly young woman named Mary. According to tradition and the best and oldest apocryphal, that is unauthentic [non]apostolic, gospels, she was a God-fearing daughter of pious parents, Joachim and Anna, who descended from the tribe of David and resided in Nazareth in Galilee.”

On the Orthodox Church calendar, there are several holidays related to the veneration of the Mother of God. The most important of these days relate to the birth, presentation, and assumption of the Holy Mother of God. My goal is to examine all these events and to make an informed judgment, in accordance with the apostolic confession of the first century as recorded in the Bible.

First of all, I must emphasize that no apostle anywhere in the New Testament ever mentions anything about the events just listed that are present in the Orthodox confession of faith. If these events were truly so important events to the Christian Church and the salvation of people around the world, it is simply unforgivable that the apostles who knew such important matters would have concealed them from the general public. Not even the author of the gospel Luke himself mentions anything concerning Mary’s youth, not even in the period after Christ’s Ascension (except for Acts 1:14), even though Luke writes in the beginning of his gospel:

“…it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”

As we can see, Luke writes an orderly account, about what he truly experienced and what was taught to Theophilus. Therefore, if this gospel writer (and others) recorded absolutely nothing about the events of which Orthodox tradition informs us, it certainly means that they did not know something of which they should have been aware and neglected to teach other Christians (if those things actually existed).

The Apostles Matthew and Luke focused their narratives on the critical events of salvation that culminated in the birth of Jesus Christ, not the events from the early youth of the mother of Jesus. Nonetheless, in the writings of the first disciples of the Lord, we can find enough information to examine the claims of sacred tradition and to verify their accuracy.

The Birth of the Virgin Mary

The Birth of the Virgin Mary

“The canonical Gospels otherwise give little information about Mary, the mother of Jesus, so that the complete picture of its mythical – divine personality can be appreciated only by considering the great amount of apocryphal and hagiographical literature, folk legends, and medieval iconography. Most of all, this requires the published apocryphal work The Book of the Birth of Mary (later known as the Protoevangelium of James) from the second century, The Book of the Death of Theotokos from the third century, or The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus’ childhood from the sixth century. Some of these legends were collected in the Middle Ages in an entire compendium that comprehensively describe many events in the life of Mary. According to these imaginative descriptions, the non-canonical Virgin Mary as a three-year old child was raised in the temple in Jerusalem, performed manual work, and was fed from the hands of angels. At the age of twelve, Mary made a vow to perpetual virginity.”

The Orthodox Church tells us (based on apocryphal non-canonical literature) that Mary was born out of the marriage of two old parents, Joachim and Ann, who had to wait fifty years until God blessed them with their child. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic in his “Prologue of Okhrid” says that after their persistent prayers, God sent his angels to announce the birth of “a daughter most-blessed, by whom all nations on earth will be blessed and through whom [will come] the salvation of the world.” Additionally, the same writer states:

“For He gave them not just a daughter, but the Mother of God. He illumined them not only with temporal joy, but with eternal joy as well. God gave them just one daughter, and she would later give them just one grandson-but what a daughter and what a Grandson! Mary, Full of grace, Blessed among women, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Altar of the Living God, the Table of the Heavenly Bread, the Ark of God’s Holiness, the Tree of the Sweetest Fruit, the Glory of the race of man, the Praise of womanhood, the Fount of virginity and purity-this was the daughter given by God to Joachim and Anna.”

In the Prologue for September 9 (under the old Julian calendar), Bishop Nikolai alludes to a reference that Joachim was the son of Varpafir, came from the tribe of Judah, and was a descendant of King David.

However, the Evangelist Luke never states anything about Mary’s male forerunners, including nothing about Joachim or Varpafir. (This is in spite of Luke’s effort to give a perfect understanding of “all things from the beginning”). Namely, when we compare the genealogy of Christ starting in Matthew 1:1-16 with that recorded in Luke 3:23-38, at first glance we see that they greatly differ. The genealogy from Luke’s gospel not only is longer (and goes back from Christ to Adam), but also differs with Matthew, which descends only from Abraham to Jesus. Matthew presents to us the family tree of Mary’s husband, Joseph, whose father is Jacob, a descendent of David, the famous king of Israel, through his son Solomon. Of course, we know that this genealogy has no real connection with Jesus Christ, because Joseph was not his father but His foster father (stepfather). Therefore, even Joseph’s ancestors were not the real ancestors of the Lord Jesus.

If we examine the eleventh verse of Matthew chapter one, we see that Matthew mentions the name Jeconiah (Jehoiachin). The Lord promises in Jeremiah 22:30 that none of his descendants will ever sit upon the throne and rule Israel. Then it becomes truly clear that Jesus has no physical origin through Solomon, son of David – who was a distant ancestor of Joseph. However, although we found that this is not a genealogy of Christ, but Joseph,
why does Matthew record it? Why does Matthew call it the Lord’s genealogy? The audience of Matthew’s gospel was the Jews who lived in the then occupied state of Israel. Their belief about the Messiah stemmed from Old Testament prophecies manifested through the anticipation of the divine ruler descended from King David who was from the tribe of Judah. Although Joseph was not Jesus’ real father, Jewish society from an earthly perspective would view Jesus from the perspective of His stepfather. Featuring the origin of Jesus’ royal guardian, Matthew wanted to inform the Jews that Christ belonged to the royal family, e.g. He was the expected Messiah.

From another perspective, Luke’s gospel shows another genealogy for the Lord Jesus. It starts with:

“Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph.”

Since we have already determined that Joseph’s father was named Jacob, and Jacob’s father Mathan, etc., we see that the two family trees do not match. However, it is true that in that time people could be known under different names. For example, the Apostle Peter (Cephas) was called Simon, the name given to the Apostle Bartholomew
after his circumcision was Nathaniel (Bartholomew means “son of Tolmay”, e.g. Nathaniel’s father was named Tolmay), and the Evangelist Mark had a different name
of John.

But it is quite unlikely that Luke merely listed the nicknames of people, yet Matthew records their actual names (assuming, in fact, the names on both lists are the same people). To affirm this more clearly, Luke identifies Nathan, as the son of David, not Solomon as listed by Matthew (Lk. 3:31). Therefore, Joseph cannot simultaneously be the son of Jacob – a descendant of Solomon – and the son of Heli – a descendant of Nathan. Based on this observation, the logical conclusion is that Luke’s genealogy is not a list of Joseph’s family tree. Since Luke tells us about Jesus in verse 23: “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli…”, it is clear that the Jews assumed a familial connection that, in fact, did not exist. The simple answer to this “riddle” about the two genealogies is that Luke records Jesus’ true physical ancestors all the way to Adam. Thus, the person called Heli is not the father of Joseph, but the father of Mary. Indeed, Heli is actually Joseph’s father-in-law. However, no separate terms for “father”, “father-in-law”, “grandfather”, “great-grandfather”, “grandson”, “son-in-law”, and other words related to “father” or “son” existed in the Aramaic or Hebrew languages at that time.

In this way we have found that the Orthodox tradition does not tell the truth about Mary’s parents, because instead of Joachim and Varpafir, we find Heli and Mathat. Earlier, we also refuted the allegation that Mary bore only one son. The Bible also tells us that Mary was not the only daughter, but in fact had a sister (John 19:25).

The Presentation of the Blessed Mary

The Presentation of the Blessed Mary

An analysis of the presumptions of sacred tradition of the Presentation of Mary (the Entry of Theotokos) at the Jerusalem Temple, and the time of her residence there once again will demonstrate that the Orthodox Church does not possess the truth in its confession of faith and, in fact, adheres to historical fraud.

The previous section proved that the names of Mary parents were not Joachim and Anna, nor was she an only daughter. This is a basic starting point to see that further disseminated legends about Jesus’ mother alleged of her youth have no basis in reality. This stands in direct contrast to the assurances of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The event of “Presentation” occurs when Mary is three years old and is taken to the temple to be dedicated to God, thus fulfilling a vow her parents had made even before she saw the light of day. The New Testament records nothing about such an event. However, Bishop Nikolai sets things in order about this event and says the following:

“When the Most-holy Virgin Mary reached the age of three, her holy parents Joachim and Anna took her from Nazareth to Jerusalem to dedicate her to the service of God according to their earlier promise… Many kinsmen of Joachim and Anna gathered in Jerusalem to take part in this event, at which the invisible angels of God were also present… The virgin was clad in vesture of royal magnificence and adornments as was befitting the ’King’s daughter, the Bride of God’.”

After they arrived in front of the Temple, Mary climbed the stairs to the top where she met the high priest Zechariah (the future father of John the Baptist). He grabbed her by the hand and led her to the most holy place of the Temple – the Holy of Holies. At the Temple, Mary ministered to God and read Scripture over the next nine (or eleven) years until she turned twelve (or fourteen, as Bishop Nikolai contradicts himself ). She then submitted herself in betrothal to the elderly Joseph of Nazareth and kept her virgin chastity.

In the text cited above by Bishop Nikolai and known in Eastern Christianity for centuries, we notice several obvious differences with the records of the Bible inspired by God.

First, despite the presence of the angels at this unknown historical event, the Holy Scriptures never refer to Mary as “the King’s Daughter, the Bride of God”. Furthermore, the “Presentation” refers to Zechariah as the high priest, although Luke calls him (and looking chronologically about 15 years later) a “common” priest:

“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

If it were true that this Zechariah (Zacharias) fifteen years previously participated in such an important event such as “the Presentation of Mary, Mother of God” in the Holy of Holies (which would have been unprecedented), surely Luke would have written something about it to remind us (and also Matthew in the case of the death of John the Baptist in Mt. 14:1-12). Also, as already pointed out, this legend makes up for one absolutely unbelievable event, that is, the introduction of a three year old girl into the most sacred place of the Temple. Anyone who has knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures knows the regulations for the ministry of a high priest to God in the sanctuary. The religious law of the Lord allowed entry into the Holy of Holies only in strictly prescribed circumstances, namely on the “Day of Atonement” (Yom Kippur) once a year. Moses communicates to his brother Aaron, the first Jewish high priest, God’s warning about the manner of entry into the Holy of Holies:

“…and the Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat… And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times… Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel… This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD… This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.’ And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Pay attention to the part of this text that clearly defines the only circumstance when the High Priest could ever dare to enter the most sacred room of the Temple (i.e. “the Tent of Meeting” or “Tabernacle” before the Temple was built):

(1) It had to be during the Day of Atonement, which took place on the tenth day of the month Tishra (the seventh month of the Jewish calendar) (Lev. 16:29-30);
(2) Wearing special attire for the occasion, the High Priest had to sacrifice for atonement on behalf of the people and their sins (3-11);
(3) The High Priest had to burn incense on the altar of incense that was in the sanctuary, which was located in front of the curtain which divided the sanctuary from the “Holy of Holies” (12-13);
(4) The High Priest could enter only with the blood of sacrificial animals (34);
(5) The High Priest had to go twice to the Holy of Holies of the temple (behind the curtain), first with the blood of a bull, and then with the blood of a goat, then sprinkling blood on the mercy seat and on the east side seven times with his finger seven times dipped in a bowl full of blood (14-15);
(6) No one dared to accompany the High Priest into the Temple while he was performing the purification of sins before the Lord on behalf of the nation of Israel (17);
(7) The Lord intended this ordinance to be observed as an eternal decree (i.e. fully
unchanging for all time) (29, 34);
(8) Every High Priest had to abide by all the regulations firmly established in God’s law given to Moses. Otherwise, the Lord would certainly punish them by death (13).

This ordinance was mentioned and confirmed by the New Testament:

“Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance…”

If the author of Hebrews had known an exception to this rule, a deviation from the commandments of God, without a doubt he would have mentioned it after the seventh verse of this chapter. Since this letter was written at least seventy years after the alleged entry of Mary into the Temple with Zechariah, surely this writer inspired by God would have known of this event. The fact of the matter is that neither the author of this text, nor any other apostle elsewhere in the New Testament mentions anything of the sort. Therefore, we have to conclude that the story of the Presentation of Mary, based on non-biblical texts, never happened.

Of course, Bishop Nikolai was well aware of all the opposition to the Orthodox traditions by the biblical texts. Yet, he wished to provide a convenient rationalization that would assist the case of Eastern theologians of the church. Bishop Nikolai mentions an explanation made by the Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Okhrid (who lived in the 9th-12th century after Christ, his life is related in the Prologues of Okhrid on December 31, page 959):

“St. Theophylact of Ohrid says that Zacharias ‘was outside himself and possessed by God’ when he led the Virgin into the holiest place in the Temple, beyond the second curtain – otherwise, his action could not be explained.”

So, in the opinion of the Blessed Theophylact, this act of Zechariah is completely inexplicable – as in all situations that violate God’s commandments. However, he attempts to rationalize this myth by saying the High Priest was “outside himself and possessed by God.” However, it remains unclear how it is possible that in one moment, a prohibition that God had commanded suddenly leads to another case where a person feels “overwhelmed” and does the opposite of God’s will? The Apostle Paul gives very clear instructions:

“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

and

“…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

The Holy Spirit through the Apostle clearly speaks from God to the hearts of his servants. He gives instruction to obey His will, not to violate it. Again, this principle clearly shows that the event of the “Presentation of Mary”, in fact, never took place.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Orthodox Church strongly champions the belief that Mary remained “chaste”, i.e. a perpetual virgin. As we earlier examined the issue, this is not true. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to delve into this topic a little deeper from some different angles and to arrive at a correct conclusion.

“When the All-Holy Virgin completed the fourteenth year after her birth and was entering her fifteenth year, after having spent eleven years of living and serving in the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests informed her that, according to the Law, she could not remain in the Temple but was required to be betrothed and enter into marriage. What a great surprise to the priests when the All-Holy Virgin answered that she had dedicated her life to God and that she desired to remain a Virgin until death, not wanting to enter into marriage with anyone! Then, according to Divine Providence, Zacharias, the high priest and father of the Forerunner, under the inspiration of God, and in agreement with the other priests, gathered twelve unwed men from the Tribe of David to betroth the Virgin Mary to one of them to preserve her virginity and to care for her. She was betrothed to Joseph of Nazareth who was her kinsman.”

“Under the acceptable role of one betrothed, she could live in virginity and thus fulfill her desire and formally satisfy the Law, for it was then unknown in Israel for maidens to vow virginity to the end of their lives. The Most-holy Virgin Mary was the first of such life-vowed virgins, of the thousands and thousands of virgin men and women who would follow her in the Church of Christ.”

From just these texts we learn about the alleged oath attributed to Mary before the Lord, which committed herself to eternal virginity and celibacy. We learn also that the elderly man Joseph received the young girl Mary with full knowledge that she would become the future mother of the Savior – and that she would give birth as a virgin, without having intercourse with a man. However, it remains unclear why sacred tradition has to mention the issue that the “elderly man” Joseph wanted to divorce Mary, who was more than sixty years his junior, when he discovered her pregnancy? Should Joseph not have rejoiced instead since Zechariah told him everything in advance? Also, why did the angel have to come to Joseph in a dream and tell him to marry Mary when he was supposed to only be her guardian?! (Remember that marriage and custody are not synonyms for one and the same phenomenon.) Scripture describes the angelic command to Joseph regarding Mary in the following manner:

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an 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 conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…’ Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife…”