Orthodox faith concerning the Mother of God

02 November 2006


Sir, — Michael Rathbone (Letters, 10 June) is incorrect in saying that belief in the immaculate conception of our Lady is a doctrine left in the Eastern Orthodox Church to the believer. This is not traditional Catholic doctrine.

I quote only one of many possible authorities: St John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai, and of San Francisco (until 1966). In his book The Orthodox Veneration of Mary, the Birthgiver of God, he quotes St Ambrose, St Bernard of Clairvaux, and St Augustine of Hippo as opposed to this doctrine.

He makes the point that if the Mother of God was conceived immaculate by her parents, that would in reality deny all her virtues. “If She could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify Her? If She, without any effort and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is She crowned more than everyone else?”

He goes on: “It is not an exaltation and greater glory, but a belittlement of Her, this ‘gift’ which was given her by Pope Pius IX.”

The assumption is altogether another matter. We prepare for the feast of her Dormition, 15 August, by two weeks of fasting. As one of the antiphons for the feast says: “The tomb and death had no power over the Birthgiver of God, who is ever watchful in her prayers and in whose intercession lies unfailing hope. For as the Mother of life, she has been translated into life by Him who dwelt within her ever-virgin womb.”
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