By Rev. Fr. K. K. John
Mary is familiar name for Bible readers. 7 different women bear the name, Mary in the New Testament.
St. Mary, mother of Jesus.
Mary, Mother of James and Joses, Mat 27:5, Mk 15:40, Lk 24:10.
Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus cast out 7 demons, Mk 16:9, Lk 8:2.
Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha Lk 10: 39-42, John 12:3-4.
Mary, Wife of Cleopas, Jn 19:25.
Mary, Mother of John Mark, AA12: 12.
Mary who greeted Paul at Rome, Rom 16:6.
Multiplicity of names, absence of clear identification to discern relationship between each of them and translation errors have contributed lot of confusion and gave room for many erroneous interpretations concerning blessed Mary, the mother of God.
Bible does not give enough details about St. Mary such as her birth, her parents, her life before conception of Jesus, her life with Joseph, death of Joseph, her life after the departing of Jesus, especially her death, etc. It is really difficult to construct a biography only based on Biblical references.
Numerous traditions have emerged on these matters. Many of them are contradictory and some are even of vicious origin. While Roman Catholics heavily rely on such traditions and exalt her equal to God, Protestants fully repudiate the whole traditions as absurd because they are not found in the Holy Bible. Orthodox Church, as ever before, follows a medium course namely; we have neither added nor deleted anything from the genuine apostolic teaching. Thus we acknowledge her status as a created being. She was not born different. She, like any other human being, inherited at birth and shared in the fallen nature of Adam. She grew up like any other girl of her age yet, in humility and devotion. She found favor with God. The Holy Spirit purged her from all impurities of original sin just when she conceived Jesus. Her virginity was unaffected by the divine conception, bearing and delivery. She remained chaste virgin even after birth of Jesus. She was not defiled by human contact through out life either before or after divine conception as God predestined. Ezekiel’s vision of ‘the shut gate’ symbolized Mary, the mother of Jesus. In other words, the shut gate was the shadow of which St. Mary was the substance. “This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord, the God of Israel has entered in by it.” Ezk 44:2. Jerusalem temple had most holy place, which was separated by a veil, usually shut and the high priest entered only once a year on the Day of atonement, Heb 9: 7. Jerusalem Temple built by Solomon or any other temple for that matter had no such eternally shut gate through which human beings were forbidden to pass. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded, besieged, ransacked and destroyed Jerusalem temple around BC 600. Ezekiel saw the vision in BC 574 that is 26 years after the temple destruction. Spoils of the temple were only survived then. Thus, Ezekiel was referring to a heavenly ‘new messianic temple,’ not to the Jerusalem or any earthly temple. This confirms and supports ever-virginity of St. Mary.
We confer her first position before all apostles and saints but not equal to God for creation shall never equal the creator. We adore, venerate and honor her as first among saints but we do not worship her. Worship belongs to God alone. It was her unqualified submission, unmatched devotion to the ultimate will of God and active participation in the redemptive plan that merited her the first position before all saints. For this reason, we commemorate her day of departing (Soonoyo), not the day of birth, as the feast of the Church on August 15th.
We have several feasts in honor of St. Mary.
Annunciation observed yearly twice on the fourth Sunday of Church calendar and on March 25. Church admonishes to conduct Holy Eucharist on March 25 without fail which, if happens to be on Good Friday we are obligated to first celebrate the feast of annunciation and then conduct Good Friday services. Thus evidently Church bids great importance to the Day of annunciation.
Blessing of Seeds on January 15.
Blessing of harvest on May 15.
Blessing of Vine and Soonoyo or departing on August 15.
Her Entry into temple on November 21.
Day of Veneration on December 26.
Tradition has that Yuyakim or Yunakir and Hanna was God fearing and devoted couple but they had no children. People’s contempt made them very sad. The couple vowed that if Hanna bore a child they would dedicate the child to the service of the Lord. Such practice was very ancient and popular among Jews. Hanna conceived, delivered a female child and named the child, Mary. According to the vow they dedicated Mary to the Lord’s service in the temple entrusting her to the care of high priest. Mary grew up in the temple until maturity. Custom did not permit to further keep her in the temple lest the temple’s sanctity would be defiled and required that she be married and sent out. The priests were conscious about her safety for, Mary was extraordinarily devoted and pious. The temple authorities summoned the Elders, as custom demanded. Bridegroom was to be chosen by casting lot and the lot fell to Joseph. Joseph, carpenter by profession was old man married and with children. Polygamy was not forbidden on those days. Custom required that one had to accept the choice of casting lot as divine decision, Prov 16: 33. Indeed, it was divine decision because as the very name connotes Joseph was the most matured and righteous man available on those days who would have least thought of putting Mary to shame or risk.
Joseph took Mary with him but they did not come together, Mat 1:18. Meaning of the word ‘wife’ is greatly different at present. On those days, from the time of betrothal, whether or not they married or consummated the marriage, people called and treated them as husband and wife. Nowadays we, the Syrian Orthodox, conduct betrothal and marriage ceremonies together on the same day due to certain practical reasons. But on those days and even in the early centuries of Christianity these ceremonies were conducted separately. There was considerable time gap between the two. The bride and the bridegroom were not allowed intimate contact during this period. Severe consequences such as public inquest, death by stoning, etc awaited law-breakers. Incidentally, it is not easy for today’s young generation that derives comfort and enjoyment in frequent dating, living together and direct action without commitments whatsoever to fully comprehend what was then the order of the day. These matters are irrelevant these days.
Joseph, to his utter dismay, found that Mary was pregnant with child before they came together. Luke affirms that Joseph was not the father of Jesus but people thought so, Lk 3:23. Joseph was in between the devil and the deep sea. Mary would be put to public shame and death if he published the matter and if he did not disown he had to bear burden of caring someone else’s child and its mother. Joseph went to bed overburdened with serious thoughts and decision to secretly abandon her. Angel Gabriel appeared in dream and explained the whole episode and encouraged him to keep Mary. Joseph’s ordeal came to an unexpected happy ending. Joseph woke up from the sleep. He was new man fully convinced of the supernatural conception, kept and protected Mary. Such divine provision was absolutely necessary to conceal actual identity for safety and survival of both the mother and child in order to successfully carry out the mysterious plan of redemption.
St. Mary is mentioned on 16 occasions in the New Testament. On most occasions she plays prominent part and at other times name is simply mentioned.
Annunciation accounts, Angel announces divine conception, and Mary seeks clarification and submits to God’s will, Luke 1:26-26.
Mary betrothed to Joseph, Mt 1:18-25.
Mary visits Elizabeth, her kinswoman and mother of John the Baptist who is filled with Holy Ghost, Magnificat, etc Luke 1:39-56.
Journey to Bethlehem, rejection in the inn, Jesus’ birth, the manger, shepherds worship and heavenly hosts worship, etc, Luke 2:1-20.
Jesus brought in the temple for purification, circumcision (Mayaltho), Simon’s prophesy, the prophetess Hanna etc, Luke 2: 22-39.
Wise men’s visit from the East, Mat 2:11.
Flight to Egypt, Mt 2: 14.
Return from Egypt, at Galilee, Mat 2: 21-24.
Jesus at the temple, Lk 2: 41-52.
Mary thought about what she heard of infant Jesus, Lk 2: 19, 51.
People of Galilee identified her as mother of Jesus and alleged that James, Joses, Simon, Judas were brothers and sisters of Jesus, Mat 13:55-56, Mk 6:3, Jn 6:42.
Reached Jesus while He spoke to multitude, Mt 12: 47, Mk 3:31-35, Lk 8:19-24.
The first miracle performed at the marriage feast at Cana at the request of Mary, Jn 2: 1-5.
Goes to Capernahum with Jesus, Jn 2:12.
Present at Jesus’ death, Jn 19:25-27.
Seen with disciples, AA 1:14.
Jesus was compassionate to his mother. Even while suffering death pangs on the Cross He fulfilled a loving son’s duty. Pointing to disciple John, He said to mother, “behold thy son,” and to the disciple He said, “behold your mother,” and from that moment that disciple John took her to his own home, John 19: 26-27. He created new relationship of mother and child between Mary and the disciple. She has become mother not only to one disciple but also to the entire Christians of all ages.
Ancient Churches believe and teach, as we have seen above, that Mary is ever virgin and mother of God (Theotokos or God bearer) because her son Jesus is God and had no other children. Joseph had predeceased; thus practically there was no immediate kindred to take care of St. Mary in the absence of Jesus. Had she other children as Protestants teach there was no need for Jesus to comment her to a disciple who was not blood-related. They heavily rely on the assumption that His brethren did not believe in Him as said in John 7:5 and completely ignore John 2:12 where it says, His mother and brethren accompanied Him to Capernaum. How if the brethren did not believe in Him they went with Him to Capernaum? The disbelief of the brethren was because to them Jesus was not moving swift enough to make Himself known in whole of Judia. Synoptic gospels say that mother and brethren went desirous of speaking to Jesus while He was speaking to multitude, (see 11, 12). Thus belief or disbelief of brethren is not at all a cognizable reason why Jesus would completely ignore and take upon Himself what was the duty of His siblings, if any. Again, common sense cannot grant that other brothers, if any, would allow one’s mother to go and live with an unrelated person just because a dying brother said so. Alternatively, would a mother forsake and disregard her all others sons, if any, let alone the sisters, and act only upon the words of a dying son? Would a mother abandon her sons and daughters to live with a mere acquaintance? Thus evidently, Jesus had no sibling. St. Mary is then seen with the disciple at the gathering of 120, praying and fasting as Jesus commanded them to do, (see 16). This amply affirms that St. Mary spent rest of her life with the disciple and actively involved in the formation and growth of infant Church of Jerusalem. St. Ignatius of Antioch is said to have corresponded with her.
Yet another important point to bear in mind is, Mosaic Law poignantly forbid children to curse or disobey parents. “Everyone that curses his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he has cursed his father or mother; his blood shall be upon him,” Lev 20:9, Prov 20:20. If death penalty was imposed for cursing father or mother how a son could go scot-free if he neglected them when they need the help most? Concept of family according to Jewish custom was entirely different from that of our contemporary society. There were no old age homes or nursing homes to dump the elderly. It was nonnegotiable duty of every child to afford care for parents in their old age. Dereliction was viewed seriously and usually no one would have risked the consequences.
Let us consider the word, brother. In English language, brothers, stepbrothers, half-brothers, brethren, cousin, etc convey similar intimate relatedness or kinship. Male children of the same parents are called brothers. When either father or mother is different this word is not used instead; words such as stepbrother, half-brother, etc are used. Children of uncles or aunts are known as cousins, first cousin, second cousin, etc. A priest addresses or blesses his congregation by calling, ‘brethren’ which denotes universal brotherhood. But neither Hebrew nor Aramaic vernacular of our Lord had such numerous words. ‘Brother’ generally and in particular sense meant:
1. Kinsman of the same parents, Gn 27:6.
2. Kinsman of the same father, Gn 28:2.
3. Kinsman of the same mother, Jg 8:19.
4. Man of the same country, Ex 2:11.
5. Member of the same tribe, 2 Sam 19:12.
6. An ally, Amos 1:9.
7. One of a kindred, Num 20:14.
8. Co-religionist, AA 9:17, Rom 1:3.
9. Fellow office bearer, Ez 3:2.
10. Someone of equal rank, 1 K 9:13.
11. Any member of human race, Mat 7:3-5, Heb 2:17.
12. Someone greatly loved, Sam 1:26.
13. A relative, Gn 14:16, Mat 12:46.
Christian is called brother 160 times in New Testament alone. Nomadic tribes, as a custom, called any clan member brother. Jesus gave generalized meaning to the word brother, when He said, “Who ever does the Will of God is My brother,” Mat 12:50, Mk 3:35, Lk 8:21. Brothers rather brethren, James, Joses, Simon and Judas mentioned in Mt 13:55 and Mk 6:3 are, according to Church fathers, sons of Joseph in his first marriage. Yet others hold that the sons so mentioned are neither of Joseph nor of Mary mother of Jesus, but of a different Mary who stood at the foot of the cross. Opinions are conflicting yet, no early Church father or none until the dawn of Protestantism dared say; Mary had children other than Jesus. Frankly, in my opinion, saying that Mary had children other than Jesus is the greatest blasphemy and sin one can ever utter or commit. The Nicene fathers, after much preponderance said, “Mary was Theotokos or God bearer” Had she other children this title would not have been conferred on her.
One who spiritually bears Christ is Christian, Gal 4:19. St. Mary since spiritually and physically bore Christ is first of all Christians. She was sinless. She is roll model for all mothers and all Christians of all ages and more especially in these days of lacking roll models. It is every Christian’s duty to say she is blessed, Lk 1:48. Failure to say so would be utter disregard of what the Holy Spirit proclaimed, “Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” Lk 1:48. The word ‘henceforth’ weakens the Roman Catholic claim of “Immaculate birth of Mary.” Her blessedness is not because of her birth but because she divinely conceived Jesus in her womb. Her blessedness is not from the time she was conceived in her mother’s womb but from the time Holy Spirit came upon her.
It was angel Gabriel who first greeted her, blessed, Lk 1:28. It was Holy Spirit through Elizabeth’s mouth who first venerated her calling, “Mother of my Lord,” Lk 1:43. By venerating her we are honoring Jesus and fulfilling obligation that Bible demands of us.
September 8 is imagined as birthday of St. Mary. 8 days’ lent is rigorously observed from first to eighth day of September. The lent comes to a close by commemoration of her birthday. This is not canonical but laity sponsored lent. Its date of origin is unknown. Variant traditions are claimed. Most certainly it started before eighteenth century somewhere in Europe out of extreme piety to the blessed mother of God. Proven efficacy of her mediation alone is its advertisement. Numerous miracles including healing of the sick, abandonment of evil life style, exorcism, granting of personal wishes, etc are widely reported from every quarter, irrespective of gender, race or color or national differences.
Early writings like Biography of St. Mary, expository songs and prayers says, Jesus with host of angels appeared at the time of her departing. Disciples were gathered to the scene as informed by Holy Spirit from the respective mission fields. Jesus asked blessed mother if she had any wish. The blessed mother implored her only Son Jesus Christ to grant the believers genuine wishes they make through her intercession. Jesus instantly promised to do so and took her to heaven.
Apostle Mathew entreated for mother’s intercession in his prison cell. The iron railings of the cell melted away and he escaped. Tipu Sultan invaded Kerala. He reached Alwaye in 1789. The infamous Tipu and his Muslim soldiers let loose atrocities on Christian women. The dismayed hapless women resorted to fasting and prayer on the other bank of the river for 8 days and sought intercession of St. Mary. Governor General Lord Mornington, attacked his head quarters at Sreerangapatnam. Tipu was forced to go back to defend his head quarters but he could not. On the way back he fell from horse and succumbed to injuries sustained from the fall and prematurely died. The poor faithful women were miraculously saved from the brutality of Tipu.
Millions worldwide testify favors received through blessed mother’s intercession. Manarkad, Velankanni, and the like stand out as living testimonies to her intercession.
Her prayers be strong hold to us
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