St. Mary, Mother of God (B. C. 14? - A. D. 66?)
by Rev. Fr. Dr. Mani Rajan Corepiscopo
Mary was born in B. C. 14 in the little Galilean village of Nazareth to a holy couple Joachim and Ann of the royal race of David. They were already far advanced in age and had almost ceased to hope that God would bless them with a child. Their long-felt desire was gratified by the birth of Mary, the chosen one of Adam's race.
Joachim was the second son of Eleazar of the tribe of Juda and the race of David. Ann (Deena) is of the tribe of Levi and the race of Aron. Joachim is also known as Yunochir or Heli (Abdul Ahad, 1948).
The gospels refer to Joseph to whom Mary was betrothed as the son of Jacob (Mathew 1:16) and the son of Heli. The genealogy of Joseph makes it evident that Joseph is the grandson of Matthan (Mathew 1:15-16; Luke 3:24). One explanation of the above reference to Joseph as the son of Jacob and Heli is that Joseph is the son of Jacob by birth and Joseph is the son-in-law of Heli (Heli's daughter Mary is betrothed to Joseph). This genealogical analysis is available in Abdul Ahad (1948). However, the Orthodox study Bible (1993) advances another possibility. There was a law (Deut. 25:5,6) that the brother of a man who died without a child should marry the wife of the deceased and raise up an heir for his brother. The most likely explanation is that Jacob and Heli were born of the same mother, but of different fathers. When Heli died after a childless marriage, his brother Jacob married the widow, who became the mother of Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter from Nazareth. He had seven children. James, Joses, Judas and Simon are referred to as brothers of Jesus Christ (Mark 6:3).
Mary was given to the Jerusalem temple at the age of three in accordance with a vow. Until the age of thirteen Mary helped in the church by stitching the vestments and preparing the accoutrements. It was customary that children beyond the age of thirteen were not allowed to stay in the church. Thus, Mary was entrusted to the care of Joseph of Nazareth.
Mary appears in the New Testament first when the Angel Gabriel announces the message of the favour of God (Luke 1: 28). Then Mary is seen, when Jesus was dedicated in the Jerusalem temple for naming (Luke 2:21-22), when they went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-42), at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1), when a multitude was listening to Jesus (Mark 2:31), at the cross of Jesus (John 19:25) and when Mary together with disciples (Acts 1:14) was praying in the upper room (St. Mark, Jerusalem). The role and virtues of St. Mary, the Mother of God, can be gauged from these verses in the Bible.
All Christians accept St. Mary as a model to emulate. The early Church at Jerusalem had a close association with St. Mary. Protestant theologians content that Mary was a passive instrument in the salvific act of Jesus Christ. However, St. Mary was not timidly submissive for she had the free will to choose. This is evident from her response: "Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). There is another argument that Mary became the Mother of God 'only by grace' (sola gratia). This would suggest that God unilaterally imposed the mission on her. It would again go against the basic theological teaching of free will. St. Paul suggests the need for meaningful response to the divine call as is evident in the following verses."We beg you who have received God's grace not to let it be wasted" (2 Cor 6:1). "Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation" (Phil. 2:12).
There is an important role for St. Mary in the redemption of mankind. However, the Catholic and Protestant Churches occupy the opposite poles on this matter. The Catholic Church goes to the extent qualifying St. Mary as corredemptrix (Macquarrie, 1991). This term projects St. Mary to have an equal status in the redemptive act of Jesus Christ. The Protestant Church considers Mary as a lady used for Jesus to take flesh from, which was possible for any woman (Genesis 3:15; Gal 4:4). The Syriac Orthodox Church qualifies St. Mary with different names, which are indicators of the theological teachings about her. Perpetual virgin (Yacoub III, 1985), Mother of God (Cayre, 1935), Mother of Church (Bernard, 1960), first among the saints and the second Eve are a few of the qualifications. The teachings of Patriarch Severios of Antioch and that of Philoxinos of Mabbug are relevant in understanding the concepts about St. Mary.
The Syriac Orthodox Church does not accept the immaculate conception of St. Mary as declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854. In contrast, Mary was born with the original sin. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). "Therefore, just as through one man's sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all man, because all sinned" (Rom 3:23; Rom. 5:12). 'All' refers to mankind and it will be reasonable to include St. Mary in the group. The concluding prayer of the holy Qurbono after the final blessing includes St. Mary for whom the sacrifice was made.
The New Testament is silent about the life of St. Mary after Pentacost. Some writers content that she lived with John, the disciple, as entrusted by Jesus Christ at the cross (John 19:25-27). A few suggest that she spent the rest of her life at Ephesus and died in A. D. 66? However, Abdul Ahad (1948) suggests that St. Mary lived only for five years after the ascension of Our Lord and died at Jerusalem at the age of fifty-one. The body of St. Mary was wrapped in linen cloths used for the burial of Jesus and buried in the Gethsemane. After that St. Mary was taken to paradise with her body in the company of angels and saints. The intercession of St. Mary is a basic tenet of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
There are seven feasts in the intercession of St. Mary.
1. January 15 - for seeds
2. March 25 - Annunciation to St. Mary
3. May 15 - for crops
4. June 15 - Dedication of the first church in honour of St. Mary
5. August 15 - Assumption of the Blessed Mary
6. September 8 - Birth of Virgin Mary
7. December 26 - Glorification of Virgin Mary.