+J.M.J+

MY BELIEF IN THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION DOCTRINE
Part III

By Daniel Joseph Barton


One can also find a well-written defense in the book Theotokos, written by Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop Joseph Raya (Madonna House Publications, Ontario Canada). He quotes the book Byzantine Theology from the modern Orthodox theologian Fr John Meyendorff as saying, "Byzantine theology & hymnology do not cease praising Mary as fully prepared for the inhabitation of God in the womb. She was fully cleansed and sanctified" (question: "When was she fully cleansed?" - all bold type is my emphasizing). Meyendorff also quoted St Sophronius of Jerusalem (c 556-638, Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634-638): "Many Saints appeared before you, but none was filled with grace as you; no one has been purified in advance as you have been."

Meyendorff also quotes St Andrew of Crete (740): "When the Mother of Him who is beauty itself is born, [human] nature recovers in her person its ancient privileges, and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God." Also is quoted St Nicholas Cabasilas of the 14th century: "Earth she is because she is from earth. But she is a new earth, since she derives in no way from her ancestors and has not inherited the old leaven. She is a new dough and has originated a new race." Meyendorff: says, "the Mariological piety of the Byzantines would probably have led them to accept the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as it was defined in 1854, if only they shared the Western doctrine (re: thoughts) of original sin."

Often, however, the Easterners did! One can find that beginning with St Peter Moghila (Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev, 1596-1647) founder of the Orthodox school of theology - the Academy of Kiev, until Stephan Javorski (rector of same from 1727 to 1731), that the rectors & theologians of the Academy taught the privilege of Mary’s exemption from original sin." (Malvy-Villier, La Confession Orthodoxe de Pierre Moghila, Orientale Christiana, Vol X, #30, p XV - quoted in the same Unitas Periodical mentioned above).

The Ukrainian Orthodox of the mid-1700's had begun to embrace the writings of Kiev's theologian Theophane Prokopovich. Prokopovich's writings, seemingly imbued with Lutheranisms, totally rejected the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos in favor of her purification-at-Annunciation (a Protestant thought). This could be the root cause as to the change of teachings at the Orthodox Academy of Kiev after 1731 as claimed by Malvy-Villier. Also possibly due to the split of the Ukrainian Church between Rome and Moscow, Prokopovich simply had adopted the by-now Russian beliefs rejecting the Immaculate Conception doctrine. After all, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had already begun being absorbed by the Czar's Russian Orthodox Church, and undergoing "russification".

Orthodox today claim that Mary may have been sanctified at the foot of Christ's cross, or at the Annunciation, or at birth, or even inside the maternal womb of St Ann. They claim that the Jesuits of Poland had influenced these Byzantine Christians of Ukraine and Russia to accept the Immaculate Conception doctrine. But it's simply not possible to claim that the Polish Roman Catholic Jesuits influenced these Easterners to confess unanimously the Immaculate Conception! The Easterners had already held it as theology, and admitted it only because they judged it to be in conformity with their own traditions, finding testimony for it in their own liturgical books.

And we should not deceive ourselves - the Ukrainian Orthodox Academy of Kiev was in spiritual war with Polish Jesuits, rejecting any latinizations by members of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore they would have closely examined an issue before making a decision, which they decided in favor of the Immaculate Conception doctrine. And it should be noted that the Jesuits only came into existence after the Protestant revolt ("Reformation" of 1500's); they were not even in existence when the writers quoted by Fr John Meyendorff were writing such words!

The renowned Protestant Greek scholar Archibald.T. Robertson in Word Pictures in the New Testament, expounds Luke 1:28 as follows: “Highly favoured” (kecharitomene). Perfect passive participle of charitoo, and means endowed with grace (charis)." This proves that the Vulgate Latin "gratiae plena" is right, when it means "full of grace which thou hast received", and those Protestants who propose that it means "full of grace which thou hast to bestow" are wrong.

A Greek Orthodox acquaintance informs me, “St Luke writes that an angel greeted Mary with the words 'Hail O favored one' (in Greek ‘Rejoice, full of grace’), the Lord is with you'. We call Mary ‘O highly favored one’ that is ‘full of grace’. The Greek word kecharitomene is indeed a perfect passive participle of charitoo (from charis, literally meaning grace), which means that Mary has been from a long time past endowed (from the very beginning of her existence?) and even is now very highly favored and adorned with God’s full gifts, because she was to conceive and give birth to the Son of God.

Thus she is in the very state of being ‘full of grace’. All that she has been and is receiving is lasting and permanent, and this name ‘full of grace’ denotes what she is before God. It is perfectly permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as ‘perfectly, completely and enduringly endowed with grace.’ These words show that Mary could not have been purified at the Annunciation or at the foot of the cross of crucifixion.

We note that a name change given by God designates in the Bible a new nature and/or function. Thus Abram became Abraham, Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul. But not so with Mary because she was not chosen to have a new nature or function later in life; rather she was already chosen from the beginning - which she gave her consent and freely accepted - even though the full extent of God’s purpose still remained hidden from her. (She, however, became more enlightened about it as Jesus lived out His life, and after the Descent of the Holy Spirit).

Further, the unusual greeting ‘Rejoice’ is never found otherwise in Scripture (the usual Semitic greeting is 'Shalom' - ‘Peace’). The word ‘Rejoice’ refers to the prophetic oracles of Zephaniah 3:14-17: ‘Sing, aloud, O daughter of Zion; Rejoice O daughter of Jerusalem!’ The angel is saying Mary is the new daughter of Zion." Wouldn't Mary be this “new daughter” at her very conception in the womb of St Ann? My acquaintance's words only leave open the possibility of purification at conception.

Although I reject Islam's teaching as to Christ Jesus, I note that the following comes from the Koran (Surah 3:42), written in approx 650-700 AD: "O Mary, indeed God has favored you and made you immaculate." The Koran is claimed by Christians to be heavily influence by Jewish and Christian thought. Is it not possible that Mohammed was strongly influenced by Eastern Christian thought that he had come into contact with?

N. The East has always considered the Conception of the Holy Mother of God as a miraculous event, due to Sts Joachim and Ann being elderly and barren, and only then being given a child by the power of God’s blessings due to their prayers. We celebrate her Nativity (8th of September), but the Feast of Mary’s Conception (conceived in St Ann’s womb) was intentionally advanced from what should have been celebrated on 8th December to 9th December. This effectively shortened the normal nine-month development phase to underscore this mysterious action/ intervention of divine grace given from God to Mary. Here, at least implicitly, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was advanced by Byzantine tradition.

Alternately, on both the Roman and the Byzantine Church calendars, Christ Jesus' development in the womb is precisely a nine-month period from the 25th of March (Annunciation - the supernatural Conception) to the 25th December (Nativity), to underscore His perfect humanity, and therefore refute those who claimed that Christ Jesus was not fully human. Each setting of celebration dates had a theology behind it, and Rome celebrated the 9th December Feast of the Conception of St Ann just as the East did.

However, in the 18th century, some Easterners refuted the West's growing focus on the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, and tried the novel claim that the "one-day-short-of-nine-months" rule for Mary meant that she was NOT perfect, NOT pure and immaculate. Rome then changed the Feast of Immaculate Conception to 8th December in the 18th century to underscore her perfect humanity, just as Jesus had perfect humanity. (Hence, some Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December, while others continue to celebrate Conception of St Ann on 9th of December - which includes the Immaculate Conception of Mary within the womb of St Ann). Another probable reason for Rome's changing of the celebration date would have been the constant Protestant claims against Rome as to "deifying Mary". By changing the date, Rome was also reinforcing Mary's total humanity, just as Jesus had total humanity.

In the May/June 97 edition of The Beacon (a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic publication from Toronto), there was an article of Metropolitan Cyprian Zokovsky of Polotsk (from 1674 to 1693), a devout defender of the Byzantine rite/theology. He worked fervently on deepening the piety and religious spirit among both the clergy and the masses. He rejected latinizations, but believed in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception due to it being deeply rooted among the masses, especially among the Basilian monasteries - they obviously did not see this doctrine as a latiniza-tion. The article states that he wrote a letter informing the Apostolic Nuncio that the devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin was very strong, and that there was even a special celebration of a daily divine service in honor of the Immaculate Conception at the Zerovytsky monastery.

Metropolitan Zokovsky, a theologian steeped in traditions of the Byzantine Church, lived in the 1600's. Therefore, it is reasonable that belief in the doctrine was not seen as heretical by the people of that time. I reiterate that there are no writings from St Peter Moghila, nor from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the time of the Unia (1596), calling the Immaculate Conception doctrine a heresy (though they were fully aware of it). It appears therefore that the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful only began to change their thoughts on #####################################################################################ce.

I have given my reasons for coming to fully believe and to defend the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, yet do not criticize other Eastern Christians whom do not accept it or remain skeptical. Orthodox insist that original sin is only the "consequences or effects in this world" that we experience, and not related to a stain or taint on the soul. Then one could claim (and I have heard from Orthodox) that all of us are therefore immaculately conceived inside the womb before entering this world. But this idea of being "born into original sin" (the effects of the world) seems to me to be a scholastic rational explanation not fitting history, and does not fully explain why babies are Baptized for the remission of sin.

Within Orthodoxy, there is no centralized Magisterium in the same sense as in Catholicism, hence the teachers are the individual priests and bishops, watched over by the individual Patriarchs. I applaud Bishop Kallistos' teaching that an individual Orthodox cannot be termed heretic for believing in this doctrine, and note again that he has not been "corrected" by Patriarch Bartholomew (or his predecessor) of Constantinople for writing his words in his book.

Although an individual Orthodox's belief in this doctrine goes against the present "democratic majority" of Eastern Christians, holding of this belief makes one no less Orthodox than another. Orthodox claim, as do Catholics, that the fundamental basis of theology is the prayer practice of the Christian community ("lex orandi, lex credendi"). But this Marian doctrine had been in existence in the East for many centuries, with much faithful piety to it, long before the schism between our two Church bodies, and long before any papal decrees. Since no Church possesses the Truth, but rather the Truth possesses the Church, we must realize that the Church sometimes is slow to understand that Truth.

Therefore, I believe that the argument of "democratic majority within Orthodoxy" alone cannot necessarily prove or disprove anything, simply because large portions, possibly majorities of Eastern Christians, as well as many Eastern Patriarchs and Bishops, fell into the Acacian, Arian, and Iconoclast heresies, heresies not as strongly affecting the West. Ecumenical Councils were always called to determine correct thoughts when there were serious controversies or arguments, such as over Arianism. None were called over the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception when the East and West was still "one united Church", because the Eastern Churches had no problem with it as a doctrinal thought.

In sharing my thoughts with Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware, he informed me by letter that he "personally does not believe the doctrine as it changes all of history of mankind". I can only answer that I believe it was God’s will, just as it was God’s will that Mary was conceived by an elderly sterile couple (Sts Anna & Joachim) against normal laws of nature. What really changes all history of mankind is that the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived God in her womb!

One must examine the parallels within the Old & New Testaments. Adam, by his "yes" to Eve and Satan helped lead to mankind's downfall; St Joseph, by his "yes" to Mary and God, helped lead mankind back to salvation. The product of a tree (the fruit) led to mankind's downfall; the product of a tree (for the cross of crucifixion) led to mankind's salvation. The act of eating something (the fruit) led to our downfall, yet the act of eating something (the Body of Christ as listed in John 6) brings us salvation. It can be no different for Mary, namely, Eve untainted by original sin used free-will to commit actual sin; Mary as the "New Eve", also untainted by original sin used free-will to never sin. Mary, by her "Yes" making possible the fullness of grace (birth of our Savior) must have been herself beforehand "full of grace".

Mary knew that honor, glory & praise are due to God alone. In Luke 1:52-53 we can read what she proclaims about God Later in the canon of Luke, when a woman from the crowd says to Jesus, "Blest is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you", Jesus replies: "Blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it". This applies directly to Mary, depicted as the exemplary hearer of God's word from her very conception, and as the handmaid of the Lord who says "Yes!" to the angel telling her the will of God. She became God's entrance into the world, hence the Church Fathers call her "New Eve", replacing the "Old Eve" by whose action (abetted by "Old Adam") became mankind’s fall from Paradise and subsequent entrance into the world. "Thus was the knot of Eve's disobedience untied through the obedience of Mary...Mary was made the cause of salvation for the whole human race". (St Irenaeus of Lyons, c.130-c.200).

A Jewish convert to Catholicism informs me that in Hebrew, Mary is "Miriam", and according to the Proto-Evangelium of St James, an angel of the Lord God appeared to Sts Joachim and Anne, giving them the order to name their child "Miriam". Only one other time is this name used in the Old Testament, that being the sister of Moses and Aaron (Ex 15:20-21). The name means "hope", hope of the liberation which God promised to His people; Miriam saved Moses by floating him down the river to the Pharaoh’s daughter, so that he could become the savior of the people of Israel in captivity.

New Testament Mary (Miriam) is one of many "Marys" in the New Testament, which shows her common-ness just as Jesus' name was common. Christ's Mother Mary is the New Testament "Miriam" parallel of the "hope" by cooperating with God in bringing us a liberator, a savior (Jesus Christ), saving him by fleeing into the desert with St Joseph. The parallels continue, when Mary as a young girl (five years old?) was taken to the Temple (Feast of the Presentation) and escorted by the High Priest Zacharias into the Temple, even though it was closed to females! Mary’s womb thus became the "new" Temple, surpassing the "old" Temple of Jerusalem, as the dwelling place of God (the Holy of Holies).

Would God purify her here rather than at her conception in St Ann's womb? I don't think so. In my opinion, God did not protect her from original sin because of a necessity to do so, but rather it was fitting to do so. For Mary's special mission, God did not allow her to inherit that lack of grace that had plagued mankind since Adam & Eve, but rather imbued Mary with the fullness of grace at her very conception.

Fr. Rene Laurentin shows the significance of Mary's special mission through the parallels between the Visitation of Mary and St Elizabeth with the travels of the Ark of the Covenant through Israel back to Jerusalem. King David brought the Ark back to Jerusalem and enthroned it in the Temple; the Ark always represented the presence of God among the people. Blessed Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, travels to Jerusalem to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When the Gospel describes St John leaping in Elizabeth's womb, it employs the very same Greek verb that describes David's dancing before the Ark of the Covenant on his way to Jerusalem, a word not meaning sensuous or erotic dance, but holy dance of joy.

And all of this connects with the end of Revelation 11 of Holy Scripture, where the Ark of the Covenant is revealed in the Heavens and the very next line describes "the woman clothed in the sun". He says the Blessed Virgin is the personification of faithful Israel. (The Truth of Christmas Beyond the Myths, St Bede's Press, 1986). As Jesus is the New Covenant, Mary is His Ark, chosen by God the Father. It stands to reason that she would not have been tainted by original sin.

For myself as a Byzantine Catholic, this doctrine is meaningful on a personal level, papal decrees aside. It is meaningful to me more as a symbol rather than a doctrine or dogma. Catholicism's Miraculous Medal of Mary, often depicted in our two-dimensional flat icon style, is one of the images I have of the Blessed Mother in my prayer life. Simply, this image of Mary is a meaningful part of my faith, allowing me to feel closer to her. Whatever other disputes Eastern Orthodox may have with the Catholic Church united to Rome (disputes dividing us), the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary should not be one of them.

One final thought: Eastern Orthodox reject the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory by proclaiming that since God is timeless, He hears our prayers for our loved ones in the future, and applies them to our loved ones upon their passing away in the present, for the departed souls’ benefits. Then there should be NO problem with God the Father applying the merits of salvation of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross, and all the peoples' prayers from all history (including the future) to Mary, to her very point of conception in the womb of St Anne!

Let us Eastern Christians together contemplate the words of St Ephraim the Syrian once more: "For in thee Lord, there is no stain, and in Your mother no stain." No stain of sin, actual or original!

Rejoice, O Mother of Christ, Lord God!
Rejoice, O joy of God the Father!
Rejoice, O immaculate one, the hope of us all!
DANIEL JOSEPH BARTON (Of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church of America)
(I take no credit; I thank the many sources named & unnamed, who contributed thoughts for this.)

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A.M.D.G


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