In the Orthodox Church, we proclaim St Mary as the Mother of God and the God-Bearer or Theothokos. St. Mary the God Bearing mother of God is a model for us, Orthodox Christians the followers of her Son, Jesus Christ. The blessedness of St. Mary is strongly emphasised in Luke 1:26-56; Blessed Virgin Mary is indeed blessed.
First, we hear the Angel Gabriel, when he tells St. Mary that she is going to conceive a child. Second, we hear it again when Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin declares that; blessed are you among women and the fruit of your womb. Finally, we hear her blessedness from Mary herself under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when she says; henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
The Orthodox Church venerates St. Mary for being the chosen vessel that was chosen out of all women to bear the Incarnate Word into the World. This affirmation and acknowledgement are in the Nicene Creed recited by all faithful of our church.
The Orthodox believers do not worship the Virgin Mary but we venerate and show her great honour. The church honours her many times in a year of the church calendar. Holy Communion will be celebrated to commemorate the feast on these days. In March on the 25th, we commemorate the Annunciation to St Mary. This the day when Angel Gabriel announced that she will bear a son and her son shall be called Jesus. This is as written in Luke 1:26-38. First and foremost, St. Mary conceived Jesus in her heart and that is the first evangelizer and the first disciple of her own Son and the first believer in Jesus as her Saviour. Believing the impossible first, Mary said yes at the Annunciation was the greatest ever faith in the entire world and history. There is no doubt and question over it. It was filled with humility and wondered how God chose her to bear the Son of God, which is Faith.
We are aware of the part played by Divine Grace in the Virgin Mary’s life and are aware of the perfection of her virtue. However, we cannot lose sight of the importance of free will in the development and expression of her rich personality.
After the Annunciation, she kept the secret of God’s plan for herself. She faced misunderstandings and accusations from others. She humbly prepared for the birth of her child and obediently accepted the command to flee into Egypt. The Virgin Mary aided by divine Grace carried out these actions in the real world with real effort and sacrifice. Thus she is for us as a model of many virtues.
In August, from the 1st to the 15th, the church teaches us to fast and pray for these fifteen days before we celebrate the Dormition (Shoonoyo) of the Theothokos. The feast is called by our church Shoonoyo meaning the departure of the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our church commemorates on this day her death, burial and departure of her soul to heaven and is expressed as repose, falling asleep. Mary having completed the course of her earthly life was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. This we see in the bible readings during the Holy Communion from St Matthew 12:46-50, St Luke 11:22-28 and St John 19:25-27
On 8th September we celebrate her birth. Here for eight days from the 1st to the 8th once again we adhere to fasting and prayers and seek her prayers to our Lord. The eight days fast commemorating the nativity of the Theothokos is much popular in the Orthodox Churches in India even though it is not a Canonical Lent of the church. In history, it shows St Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine built a church in Jerusalem which was dedicated to the Nativity our St Mary and it was consecrated on the date of her nativity.
On 21st November we commemorate the young Virgin Mary entering the temple in Jerusalem. The feast on the entry of the Theothokos takes up the story of Mary’s preparation to become the Mother of God. The story of Joachim who retreated to the hill country to live when he was shunned away from the temple by the high priest for not having any children when making an offering and at the same time the fasting and prayerful life of Anna in Jerusalem. They as parents soon had a child when an angel announced that Anna will bear a child whose name would be known throughout the world. Anna promised to offer her child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim returned home and in due time Anna bore a daughter and was named Mary. Joachim was of the lineage of David and Anna from the lineage of Aaron. Thus Mary was of royal birth by her father and a priestly birth by her mother. This we can see as Mary foreshadowed Christ who would be born of her as a King and a High Priest.26th of December is commemorated as the day of Glorification of the Mother of God. The church has separated this day for us to draw our attention to Christ’s Holy Mother and to allow us to give praise, glorify and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Theothokos who gave birth to our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ her divine son.
The Orthodox Church has always glorified the most Holy Mother of God as the Protectress and Defender of the Christian people, entreating by her intercession. St. Mary the Theothokos has been recognised as the chief of all the saints. She is the intercessor for all mankind. She bore Him, who carries the mountain and the seas. Mother Mary is blessed as she is the decorated ship where our Lord the captain resides.