Mary Conceived Faith and Joy

The Patristic writers and later hymnographers of our Church loved the interplay of ideas which they found in the scriptures.  One such idea is that the Virgin Mary serves as the fulfillment of what God intended humanity to be, thus undoing Eve’s disobedience.  One of the earliest references connecting Mary and Eve comes from St. Martyr Justin the Philosopher (mid-2nd Century). 

annunciation“Eve was a virgin, without corruption.  By conceiving through the word of the serpent, she gave birth to disobedience and death.  The virgin Mary conceived faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced to her the good news.” 

In the Orthodox Church, the Virgin Mary is no mere passive recipient of God’s grace.  She actively, though humbly, cooperates with God for the salvation of the world.  To be Theotokos, Mary actively listens to God’s Word through the Angel Gabriel, and willingly agrees to accept God’s Word.  In this sense, she is very much a proto-model disciple of Christ, God the Word.  Unlike Eve who disobeyed God and listened to the serpent, Mary rejects the concerns of the world not only to hear God, but to allow His Word to dwell in her so that she could bear fruit for Him.

Christmas: When Repentance is Not Enough

Though the first message Jesus proclaimed was a call to repentance (Matthew 4:17), the early Christians understood that the purpose of Christ’s coming was not mostly about this message.  For indeed the prophets had already called God’s people to repentance, and before Jesus, St. John the Forerunner also called all to repent (Mark 1:15).   Repentance however was not enough to accomplish salvation.   St. Athanasius in the 4th Century AD said:

“Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning.  Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God.  No, repentance could not meet the case.  What-or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required?  Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing?  His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all.”  

nativity7Christmas for St. Athanasius is about God healing human nature which had become corrupted by sin.   God had already given the Law and sent the prophets to tell the world to stop sinning and how to live properly.  If all that was needed was that humans stop sinning, Christmas would never have been necessary.  For us Christians, we can look at Christmas and ask, “What  was the purpose of the Incarnation?    What was the problem or evil for which God determined the birth of Christ was the solution?”   Christmas is the undoing of what had happened to humanity and to our relationship with God ever since the sin of Eve and Adam in Genesis 3.