In a recent interview on Pints with Aquinas, the host Matt Fradd stated, “When the fathers are unanimous on a topic, you can’t go against them.”

The guest, Sam [Shamoun] himself went further, “One dissenting voice does not undo the majority.”

What if there was a plethora of fathers that taught a doctrine? What if there was not a single dissenting voice?

Obviously, we don’t need to know every Christian who has ever existed and his belief on a topic in order to understand what are the correct doctrines about Mary, the Theotokos. We just need to know the beliefs of those Christians who actually commented on a topic.

The Orthodox doctrines of Mary I will cover today are the unanimous teaching of the saints. I need to be honest and state that only Orthodoxy today affirms and has not altered this unanimous teaching. For this reason, I apologize in advance if what will follow will offend Protestants and Roman Catholics. Do not shoot the messenger! I am just presenting the historical doctrine of the Church.


  • It is difficult to present an “in-house” doctrine to people outside the Orthodox Church. Today is not about convincing you that we are right, but rather teaching you what we believe and what the saints have always taught.
  • There is a lot of debate, so to prevent misinformation, reading texts as a whole and in proper context is key. For this reason, I provide citations. You must do the homework and look everything up.
  • It’s helpful to think of all Orthodox (whether Oriental or Eastern) believing the same things about Mary as the Roman Catholics do, but we have a different understanding of original sin and therefore maintain the Theotokos had that sin.
  • Because we are so similar to Roman Catholics and people already know what they teach on this, I am going to emphasize how we are different.
  • Everyone hang onto their seats, but I am going to shoot straight with you: we do not portray Mary as somehow more than human. Orthodox venerate Mary but we lack cultural elements of western devotions—no sacred hearts, frequent apparitions, appearances on toast, and “reparations” and sacrifices TO Mary. For example, Sister Lucia, who claimed to get private revelations from the Theotokos preceding an apparition in Fatima, Portugal was allegedly told:
    • “When you make some sacrifice, say ‘O Jesus, it is for your love, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.'” (, Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima)
  • The preceding may sound bizarre and I am honestly not trying to scandalize you. But this topic becomes so academic that we lose a grip on reality. Orthodox do not have any of the preceding as part of our piety, so it is important that I point out that we do not have this in common. The rest of this presentation is academic, so we can leave the real-world stuff for Q&A.
  • Mainstream Orthodox books from cradle-Orthodox clergy, not converts, such Igumen Gregory’s O Full of Grace Glory to Thee and Father Hatzidakis’ Jesus Fallen agree with every aspect of this presentation. This is not my private opinion, but the Orthodox consensus.

Some relevant Scriptures

  • The Scriptures are about God—the saints are sort of incidental to that story. Hence, unlike soteriology, Mariology in the Scriptures (without getting very allegorical) is relatively scanty.

Mary is the Ark of the Covenant:

  • David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9)
  • “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

Mary needed to be purified to become God’s footstool:

  • And Moses was not able to enter into the tabernacle of testimony, because the cloud overshadowed (ἐπεσκίαζεν) it, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord. (Ex 40:29 LXX/ Ex 40:35 MT)
  • And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow (ἐπισκιάσει) you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

Mary gave birth without pain, which implies she remained a Virgin after birth*:

  • Before she was in labor, she gave birth; Before her pain came, she delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? (Is 66:7-8)
    • *It should be noted, we are not more defiled after encountering God. God coming into this world cannot have resulted in the Theotokos losing her purity.

Mary died:

  • Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.  (Ps 132:8)
  • The death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord. (Ps 116.15) 

Mary was bodily assumed:

  • [T]he woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place. (Rev 12:14)

She intercedes for us now:

  • The saints pray for us:
    • And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10)
      • For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Mark 12:25)
      • Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. (Rev 8:3)
  • The saints hear our prayers:
    • Then he [Elisha] said to him, “Did not my heart go with you when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you?” (2 Kings 5:26)

To understand the Orthodox doctrine and how we allegorize the Scriptures, it is necessary to understand the tradition of the fathers—something we consider authoritative.

Original Sin

Sin is “a diseased condition of the will” which alienates oneself from God. The alienation from God brings corruption and death not as an arbitrary penalty, but as a law of nature due to being cut off from God’s divinzing energy (which we talked about last time). Therefore, “original sin” is not explicitly an overt act, but rather a condition. “[A]s through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) Here is how the saints understand original sin:

  • [Minutes of the Council of Carthage:] The bishop [Saint] Aurelius [of Carthage] said: ‘I ask, What conclusion I have on my part to draw from this man’s obstinacy; my affirmation is, that although Adam, as created in Paradise, is said to have been made immortal at first, he afterwards became corruptible through transgressing the commandment (Augustine, On Original Sin, Book II, Chap 3)
  • [God to Adam:] [L]et every thing bear for you the fruit of life, and let participation in Me be the support of your own being. For in this way you will be immortal[JoD:] [H]e cannot remain incorruptible who partakes of sensible food [i.e. the fruit of sin] (John of Damascus, Expos., Book II, Chap 11).
  • He [Adam] transgressed the command of his Creator and became liable to death and corruption (JoD, Exposition, Book IV, Chap 13.)
  • Humanity once revolted through the malice of the enemy, and, brought into bondage to sin, was also alienated from the true Life. (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II, Chap 12) 
  • Of that, at least, which is truly passion, which is a diseased condition of the will, He [Jesus] was not a partaker; for it says He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth 1 Peter 2:22. (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II, Chap 12)

Original sin is transmitted through sex:

  • [E]very one who is born of sexual intercourse is in fact sinful flesh, since that alone which was not born of such intercourse was not sinful flesh (Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book I, Chap 13).
  • He became perfect man, having assumed from us, and for us, and consistent with us, everything that is ours, lacking nothing, but without sin, for to become man He had no need of the natural process of connubial [conjugal] intercourse. In this way, He showed, I think, that there was perhaps another mode, foreknown by God, for the multiplication of human beings, had the first human being kept the commandment and not cast himself down to the level of irrational animals by misusing the mode of his proper powers. (Maximus, Ambigua of John, 41:7)

The Theotokos had a dispassionate conception

It is unclear how literal we are to take this, physiologically. The point is, there were no passionate, lustful feelings during her conception.

  • [T]he Panhagia was not free from ancestral sin…She was all-pure because her conception occurred without pleasure. The Holy Ancestors of God after fervent prayer to God to grant them a child, conceived not by sexual lust, but by obedience to God. (Paisios the Athonite, Book IV: The Family Life)
  • O most blessed loins of Joachim, from which a wholly unblemished seed was sent forth!…Joachim and Anna! Having kept the law of nature, chastity, you were deemed worth of things that surpass nature; you have given birth to the Mother of God. (Damascene, Oration on the Nativity, Chaps 2 and 6)
  • What more paradoxical than to see a Mother of God conceived as the fruit of a pure woman and as a virgin who sprouted from a childless, barren woman, who was opened but not corrupted in her womb? (Andrew of Crete, On the Nativity, IV, Chap 4).
  • A woman who in unaminity of soul and bodily chastity always possessed constancy of understanding with her husband…thus safeguarding devout benevolence towards him [Joachim] in their union. (Kosmas Vestitor, Sermon on Joachim and Anna, Chap 3)
    • Hail indeed, daughter of Joachim and Anna, who blamelessly bore you [as a result] of a prayer at the appropriate time of their cohabitation (Germanus, Oration on the Annunciation, Chap 3)

Theotokos had original sin

Despite being dispassionately (some Orthodox sources actually say “immaculately”) conceived, the Theotokos was “necessarily conceived in…humanity’s iniquity” and had “flesh of sin” which was “propagated from her conception.” Therefore, she had a “fallen human nature.” This is not because she is bad—this is because she is a human being subject to original sin from Adam.

Due to Mary being conceived by sex, Orthodoxy teaches that Mary had original sin. The saints often teach on this subject when addressing the incarnation. Mary had “sinful flesh” while Jesus took on the penalty of sin, but not the sin–therefore having “the likeness of sinful flesh.” 


  • Indeed, [from] Mary’s flesh (which humanity’s iniquity she was necessarily conceived [in], truly she was undoubtedly sinful) [was in] whom God’s Son [was] given birth in [the] likeness of flesh [of] sin….Truly, [the] likeness [of] flesh [of] sin [is] within God’s Son, or rather it is said God’s Son [is] in [the] likeness of sinful flesh, it is believed the only begotten God from [the] Virgin’s mortal flesh did not extract sin’s defilement. (Fulgentius of Ruspe, Epistle 17, Par 13, Migne PL 65, p. 458 
  • Accordingly, the body of Christ was truly assumed from the women’s flesh, which [is] from her flesh [of] sin propagated [from] her conception. Nevertheless, because [His body] does not follow her conception in this [same] way, [He] is not her flesh [of] sin, but [the] likeness [of the] flesh [of] sin. (Augustine, Commentary on Book of Genesis, Book 10 Chap 18/Par 32, Migne PL34: p. 422).  
  • [Julianus:]”The flesh of Christ, because He was born of Mary, whose flesh like that of all the rest came from propagation from Adam”… [Augutine:] You dare insist: There is no sinful flesh, lest the flesh of Christ also be this?’…[E]xcepting His flesh, all other human flesh is sinful flesh. We see, moreover, that the concupiscence through which Christ willed not to be conceived produced the propagation of evil in the human race, for though the body of Mary was thence derived [from sex], it did not transmit concupiscence to the body [of Jesus] it did not thence conceive [sexually]. (Augustine, Against Julius, Book V, Par 52)

In fact, the saints taught that the reason Jesus was able to voluntarily assume the likeness of sinful flesh was because His mother had a “fallen human nature.”

  • He was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Of the Holy Spirit, that in Him there be no sinful flesh; of the Virgin Mary, that the likeness of sinful flesh be in Him. (Augustine, Against Julius, Book V, Par 62)
    • How did this occur?
      • He was free by nature from the necessity of nature, since He did not owe His existence to the law of generation that applies to us (Maximus, Ambiguum to John, 5:16).
    • This was a voluntary assumption from the Theotokos:
      • By accepting, on the other hand, birth in the flesh, that is, by voluntarily clothing Himself in the form of the slave, so as to assume the likeness of corrupted humanity, the sinless one, as if He were responsible for sin, willingly subjected Himself to natural passions like ours, but without sin. And because He is from Her [the Theotokos, ταϋτα contraction of two words, ta and auta, literally, “the her”] that He is composed, He has our parts. (Maximus, Ambiguum to John, 42:3)

Other saints agree:

  • God incarnate, Who did not bring down His body from Heaven, nor simply passed through the Virgin as channel, but received from her flesh of like essence to our own…[of] the very same nature, which had sinned and fallen and become corrupted (John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chap 12)
  • I confess the Word of God, coeternal with the Father, being above time, uncircumscribed, unconfined, yet came down to our nature and humbled himself as man and took our whole fallen (peripeptwkota) human nature from the pure and virginal blood of the only immaculate and pure Virgin. (Great Euchologion, quoted in p. 182 of Jesus Fallen by Fr. Hatizdakis.)
  • [Christ was] born by a new mode of birth; because inviolate virginity, while ignorant of concupiscence, supplied the matter of his flesh. What was assumed from the Lord’s mother was nature, not fault. (Tome of St Leo the Great)
  • And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was fecundated not by human intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one [Mary] received purification from the Source of her conception. For no taint of sin penetrated, where no intercourse occurred. Her unsullied virginity knew no lust when it ministered the substance. The Lord took from His mother our nature, not our fault. (St Leo the Great, Sermon 22, Chap 3)

It helps to think of the incarnation mirroring the Ark and the consecration of the Eucharist. God is made present in a physical object which has committed no act of sin, but it is made of (in the case of the Eucharist, formerly) fallen matter. Hence, for Jesus to be incarnate and sinless, we do not need an Immaculate Conception. It is superfluous and contradicts the saints who explicitly teach she had original sin.

Correcting misunderstandings concerning “prepurification”

Wait a moment, some might say, “I heard the saints taught Mary was ‘prepurified’ at conception!”

  • The saints, just like Pope Leo the Great, talked about Mary being “purified” or “prepurified.” This is popularly misunderstood as referring to before her conception, but as we just saw Leo was talking about Christ’s conception.
  • The term “prepurified” can refer to multiple events and is an unremarkable word in antiquity.
    • Roman Catholic Marian scholar Father Christaan Kappes teaches in minute 43:40 of his interview on Patristic Pillars that saints such as Palamas and Damascene understood the terms “purified” and “prepurified” in the same sense.
      • Palamas uses purification and prepurification, which is really interchangeable. Damascene does the same thing–sometimes Damaacene calls her prepurified, sometimes he calls her purified, he is rather indifferent to it. (Kappes, Patrsitic Pillars)
        • Within the same response, Kappes asserts Mary was “prepurifed” multiple times in her life. Later, he says the same word is used for other saints in preparation for baptism.
        • No scholar asserts that the term “prepurification” can only refer to an event preceding her conception. It is a shame that Kappes is repeatedly misrepresented on this point.

Being that purified/prepurified can apply to multiple situations, the question is when do the saints apply it to Mary?

For the first 1,000 years of Church history, the exclusive meaning of the term “prepurified” in reference to Mary was like that of Pope Leo’s. It is always in reference to a purification right before the incarnation. In the second millennium, the term’s meaning became more generalized and referred to several occasions in Mary’s life, including her conception, presentation at the temple, and also the annunciation. 

Where’s the proof? The authoritative hymnography of the Church (approx. eighth century), written before the schism in 1054 AD, exclusively ascribes the prepurification/purification to the incarnation. These hymns were sung throughout the Christian world. A few examples:

  • [I]n his compassion and merciful love for mankind [He] has submitted himself to emptying, according to the good pleasure and the counsel of the Father, and has gone to dwell in a Virgin’s womb that have been sanctified beforehand by the Spirit (John of Damascus, Vigil for Annunciation, Great Compline, Tone 8, p. 443 of Ware).
    • Some may say, “How long beforehand?” Damascene gives us the answer:
      • So then, after the assent of the Holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on her, according to the word of the Lord which the angel spoke, purifying her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and likewise power to bring forth (JoD, Expos., Book III, Chap 2).
  • Having sanctified thy soul and wholly prepurified [προκαθαρθείσα] thy body, thou didst give birth seedlessly, having conceived the power of the Most High [Luke 1:35] in thy womb through the coming upon thee of the Holy Spirit, O all-immaculate one. (March 11 Menaion, Ode VII, Theotokion).
  • The descent of the Holy Spirit has purified my soul and sanctified my body: it has made of me a Temple that contains God, a Tabernacle divinely adorned, a living Sanctuary, and the pure Mother of Life (Matins for the Annunciation, Canon of the Annunciation, Ode 7).
  • [Theotokos:] Since then I am purified in soul and body by the Spirit, be it according to the word: may God dwell in me (Ibid., Ode 8).
  • Having prepurified [προκαθαρθείσα] your soul with the light of (the) divine Spirit, pure virgin, you received in your belly all the light of the Father, thus (for this reason now) expel the darkness of my transgression. (Octoechos, “Friday Tone 1”)

As we can perceive in the last hymn, Mary’s purification at the annunciation parallels our purification from “transgression.”

Why did this purification need to occur during the annunciation? Purification took a womb “subjected to impurity” and “overthrew” “sin,” thereby keeping Jesus’ conception “undefiled.”

  • Immaculate and undefiled was His generation: for where the Holy Spirit breathes, there all pollution is taken away: undefiled from the Virgin was the incarnate generation of the Only-begotten.  (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 12, Par 32).
  • [I]t was fitting that the Architect of works should come and raise up the house that had fallen and that the hovering Spirit should sanctify the buildings that were uncleanHe dwelt in the womb and cleansed it and sanctified the place of birthpangs and curses. (Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on the Diatessaron, Book 1, Par 25, comments on Luke 1:35).
  • Pearls come from unclean animals, so also Christ was born out of nature that had been subjected to impurity and is in need of being cleansed by God’s visitation…He also cleansed the Virgin and then was born, thus having shown that where is Christ there is purity in all its power. He cleansed the Virgin, first having prepared Her with the Holy Spirit; whereafter the cleansed womb is able to conceive Him. (Ephrem the Syrian, A Word on Heretics, Par 19)
  • [T]he Holy Spirit first came to cleanse and sanctify the Virgin Mary and that then there came the power of the Most High. (Augustine, Responses to Maximinus, Book II, 17:2)
      • Note: Augustine is actually quoting someone else, agreeing with the statement almost in its entirety but taking issue that the “Most High” is being presented as Christ and not the Spirit.)
  • From the place where the archsinner Cain sprang forth, there Christ the Redeemer of the human race was born without seed…He was not subject to impurity by being in the womb which He Himself arrayed free from all harm. (Proclus of Constantinople, Homily on the Annunciation)
  • The sanctifying power of the Spirit reposed on her, cleansed her and made her holy. (John of Damascus, On the Dormition, Homily I, chap 3)

According to Kappes, when “prepurification” is used in reference to other saints, it is a reference to their baptism. Not coincidently, we find saints referring to the Theotokos’ prepurification during the annunciation as a spiritual baptism: 

  • For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this [the] Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing. (Leo the Great, Sermon 24, Chap 3)
  • [Mary:]Shall I call you Lord, O [You] who brought forth His mother [in] another birth out of the water?…Handmaiden and daughter of blood and water [am I] whom You redeemed and baptized. Son of the Most High Who came and dwelt in me, [in] another birth, He bore me also, [in] a second birth, I put on the glory of Him. (St Ephrem the Syrian, Nativity Hymn 16:9-11)
    • Baptism redeemed Mary in the same way it redeems everyone. Let’s look how Augustine described how baptism redeemed Mary:
      • We declare…whoever is born must be under the power of the Devil until he be reborn in Christ. (Augustine, Against Julianus, Book 3, Par 12)
      • The reason those born of the union of bodies are under the power of the Devil before they are reborn through the Spirit is that they are born through concupiscence. (Augustine, Against Julianus, Book 4, Par 34)
      • Reminder: We see, moreover, that the concupiscence through which Christ willed not to be conceived produced the propagation of evil in the human race, for though the body of Mary was thence derived. (Augustine, Against Julianus, Book 5, Par 52)
        • Does Augustine make the logical derivation that all those born under concupiscence are under the power of the devil and therefore, so was Mary before baptism?
      • We do not deliver Mary to the devil by the condition of her birth; but for this reason, because this very condition is resolved by the grace of rebirth. (Augustine, Against Julianus, Book 4, Par 122)
        • Non transcribimus diabolo Mariam conditione nascendi; sed ideo, quia ipsa conditio solvitur gratia renascendi. (PL 45, p. 1418)
        • My translation: We do not assign [to the] Devil [the] circumstances of Mary’s birth; but for this reason, because her condition [is] solved  [by the] grace [of] rebirth.
          • Note: The Latin is significantly longer than Matthew A. Schumacher’s translation, which skips significant sections of the original. The Paragraph numbers between his translation and the Latin do not match. The above citations come from his translation with the exception of Book 4, Par 122.
  • The preceding is not the only saint to cite that Mary was redeemed from the Devil by the incarnation:
    • [Gabriel said to Mary:] No longer shall the devil be against you; for where of old that adversary inflicted the wound [i.e. thw womb], there now first of all does the Physician apply the salve of deliverance. Where death came forth, there has life now prepared its entrance. (Gregory the Illuminator, Homily 3 On the Annunciation)

The preceding baptism, like the baptism of all people with original sin, sanctified the Theotokos’ “mind” and healed her from “evil inclinations,” “carnal desires,” and “carnal passions.” 

  • And when this word, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured,” reached her, in the very moment of her hearing it, the Holy Spirit entered into the undefiled temple of the Virgin, and her mind and her members were sanctified together. (Gregory the Illuminator, Homily 2 on the Annunciation, Par 3)
  • You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, and that a kindly cloud…cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. At last it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Highest overshadowed her, Luke 1:35 when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. (Ambrose, On the Mysteries, Par 13)
  • Your [Mary’s] refined conception wipes clean [and] dissolves the impulsive desire of your members. Holiness and purity He poured forth [and] filled you with holy floods. He purified you, so that one would say, “How good is she that glorious woman!” Since the conception is the Glorious One, He stamped Himself as if by a signet upon your mind. (Ephrem the Syrian, Nativity Hymn 28:6-7)
  • [B]y the burning effect of this scorching wind the mind of each one of the Elect is cooled down, when the heat of evil inclinations is extinguished therein, and the flame of carnal desires turned to ice…the minds of the righteous are brought from the irritation and heat of bad habits to coolness and quietness of the thoughts, while they now no longer seek earthly things, while they extinguish the flames of the flesh by heavenly aspirations. In reference to this cooling of the soul, which is given from heaven, it is said to Mary, The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee [Luke 1, 35]. (St Gregory the Great, Moralia on Job, Book 18, Par 32-33)

I want to emphasize that God’s grace prevented aberrant thoughts. Take into account that this occurred before Mary hit puberty, which is a very trying period in every fallen person’s life. Also take into account that the Theotokos made full use of her baptism by cooperating completely with God’s grace—otherwise it would have not achieved its purpose of keeping Christ “undefiled.” So, Orthodox see this as an example of her virtue, not vice.

Virgin before, during, and after birth

People think this is a late medieval invention. Historians affirm these doctrines were documented since the second century:

  • [T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain.’” (second century, Ascension of Isaiah 11:12-14).
  • And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. (second century, Odes of Solomon 19:8)
  • The said Salome: “As the Lord my God lives, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.” And the midwife…put in her finger, and cried out, and said: “Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire.” (second century, Protoevangelicum of James 19-20) 
  • I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a Virgin after her son was born. (fourth century, Jerome, Against Helvidius, Par 2; c.f. par 19 states this is the majority opinion)
  • If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother. (fourth century, Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on Matthew 1:4)
  • [F]or a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained. (fifth century, Leo the Great, Sermon 22, Chap 2)

Never sinned

Due to God’s grace, including the specific aformentioned prepurification, the Theotokos throughout her whole life never committed an act of sin:

  • Mary [was] a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin. (Ambrose, Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30)
  • [W]ith this exception of the Virgin, we could only assemble together all the forementioned holy men and women, and ask them whether they lived without sin while they were in this life, what can we suppose would be their answer? (Augustine, On Nature and Grace, Chap 42)

Turned from every assault of passion

The Theotokos turned from every “carnal thought” and “passion.”

Normally, we would consider this heroic:

  • If Mary, even in the womb of Her mother, when She could not even desire anything either good or evil, was preserved by God’s grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was preserved from sin even after Her birth, then in what does Her merit consist?…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? There is no victory without an adversary. (St John Maximovitch quoted on

Examples of her having having victory over the adversary:

  • [S]he [Mary] became the home of every virtue, turning her mind away from every secular and carnal desire, and thus keeping her soul as well as her body virginal (Damascene, Exposition, Book IV, Chap 14).
  • The immaculate Virgin, never involved herself in earthly passions, but was nourished on heavenly thoughts…Mary has shaken off the assaults of passion and has planted again the shoot of obedience to God our Father…She avoids all impurity and turns away from the morass of our passions (Damascene, On the Dormition, Homily II, chap 2, 3, 19).
  • [The Lord speaking to Mary:]Do not be disturbed at the leaving behind the corruptible world, with all its desires…The extravagant demands of the flesh (cf Rom 7) will no longer disturb you. You are ascending to a fuller life…to delights free from passion, to permanent freedom from distraction (Germanus, On the Dormition, Homily II, chap 2).

Some people may object aaserting that turning away from sin is not evidence of original sin. However, we cannot turn away from something that we do not have some tendency for. Augustine teaches the following concerning sexual sin, but this is true of all sin:

  • [I]ncitement of sexual intercourse…if…men yield to it,…is satisfied by an act of sin; if…not, then it is bridled by an act of refusal: which two things who could doubt to have been alien from paradise before sin (On the Trinity, Book XIII, Par 23).

Some other people may object that “freedom from distraction” is not deliverance from the Fall. However, our minds became “subject to flux and change” (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, Chap 27, Par 5) and “confusion” (Ireneaus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chap 23, Par 5; Chrysostom, Homily 17 on Genesis, Chap 1) only after the Fall. Saint Maximus calls this “gnomic willing” and Orthodoxy teaches that all sin derives itself from gnomic willing. 

Mary had gnomic will, but never consented to sin. How incredible is it that despite sharing not only our physical, but spiritual afflictions the Mother of God never sinned? Most of the audience finds this too fantastic to believe. But this is why we Orthodox marvel at and venerate the Theotokos. 

“Mary’s struggle with the effect of sin upon her human nature” (p. 75 of Igumen Gregory’s O Full of Grace Glory to Thee)

As indicated before, the Theotokos was heroic in that she experienced assaults of passions and exhibited gnomic will, but never consented to sin. However, the existence of this can only be attributed to original sin.

We learned that Mary “turned” away from “carnal thoughts.” What specifically were these thoughts according to the Scriptures and saints? 

The following saints (and early church teachers) taught that the Theotokos experienced doubts (indicative of “confusion”/”gnomic willing”) and grief (indicative of the passions). People find this weird, but the saints teach grief is an “unnatural passion,” because it leads to acts of sin like suicide. If you want details, ask me.

As said before, the saints teach she had grief and doubt, but also affirmed that the grace of God healed her “in an instant” preventing any consenting to sin (i.e. despondency, faithlessness, etc). Examples:

  • Mary, too, was scandalized in that moment [of the crucifixion]. This is what Simeon is prophesying about:…Your soul will be pierced by the sword of unbelief and will be wounded by the sword point of doubt. (Origen, Homily on Luke 17, 6-7; PG 13, 1845; SC 87, 236-58)
  • About the words of Simeon to Mary, there is no obscurity or variety of interpretation…Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross…she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest…Even you yourself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shall be reached by some doubt. This is the sword….He indicates that after the offense at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself. (Basil the Great, Letter 260, Par 9)
  • As for what Simeon adds…(Luke 2: 35) indicates that Mary, in whose bosom the mystery of the incarnation has been wrought,…there has been some doubt at the death of Our LordHe who ceases to doubt ceases to be subject to death. (“Ambrosiaster,” Questions and Answers on the Gospel of Luke, Question 73)
  • [B]y this is signified that Mary also, through whom was performed the mystery of the incarnation, looked with doubt and astonishment at the death of her Lord. (Augustine, Catena on Luke 2:35)
  • [G]rief and doubt that came upon the disciples at the Crucifixion of the Lord and struck the heart of the immaculate Mary like lightning, immediately, in an instant, healing and consolation were introduced by the Lord, who strengthened their hearts by her faith, so that her fortitude was made manifest. (Maximus the Confessor, Life of the Virgin, Par 53)

In the preceding, we can see that Mary experienced “some” doubt, but did not consent to this feeling. In fact, this was an example of her “fortitude” which “strengthened” others. Hence, Orthodox see the preceding as evidence of her virtue during an extremely trying moment–not vice. We believe this “virtue” was the result of God’s grace, which is why it is called “healing.” You only need to be “healed” of an ailment, here being a sinful tendency to doubt God which exists due to original sin. How heroic is this? Despite an ailment, she did not sin!

John Chrysostom speculates even further about how God intervened to prevent the Theotokos from sinning:

  • Why [didn’t the angel]…declare the good tidings to her after the conception? Lest she should be in agitation and great trouble. For it were likely that she, not knowing the certainty, might have even devised something amiss touching herself, and have gone on to strangle or to stab herself, not enduring the disgrace…Therefore to prevent these things, the angel came before the conception. (Homily 4 on Matthew, Chap 9)
  • (…”these are my mother and brothers”) For in fact that which she had to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she has power and authority over her Son…Whence it is clear, that nothing but vainglory led them to do this…with what purpose He reproved? That it was not with intent to drive them to perplexity, but to deliver them from the most tyrannical passion and to lead them on little by little to the right idea concerning Himself…On this occasion too, He both healed the disease of vainglory, and rendered the due honor to His mother, even though her request was unseasonable. (Homily 44 on Matthew, Chap 1, 3) 
    • It would be inaccurate to say Chrysostom was teaching that Mary sinned. In fact, he contradicts this. In Par 2 he states, “[N]either did He declare and pronounce judgment against them; but He yet left in it their own power to choose, speaking with the gentleness that becomes Him.” Hence, Jesus Christ permitted his family members to be assaulted by “the most tyrannical passion” of vainglory, and by speaking gently this allowed God’s grace to cooperate with their wills to avoid sin. This is why it states they were “healed” from “the disease of vainglory.” No judgement was made, which implies, the sin itself was not conceived.
      • This is not Orthodox pyscho-babble. The Scriptures state, “When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” (James 1:15) Hence, consent to a passion must occur before sin exists.
  • [During the wedding in Cana] she desired both to do them a favor, and through her Son to render herself more conspicuous; perhaps too she had some human feelings…[For] this was a reason why He rebuked her on that occasion, saying, “Woman, what have I to do with you?,” instructing her for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much more for the salvation of her soul. (Homily 21 on John, Chap 2-3)

The Orthodox doctrine is clear. By the Biblical definition, there is no actual sin being committed in any of the preceding examples—even in Mary’s thoughts. She is healed from even aberrant thoughts before they are consented to.

Mary’s concerns about the judgement

The Theotokos had valid concerns that she would be judged due to her original sin. 

  • Seeing we must render an account for every idle word do we desire the day of judgment in which that unwearied fire is to be passed through in which those grievous punishments are to be undergone for the expiating of a soul from sin? A sword shall [even] pass through the soul of the blessed Virgin Mary that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. If that Virgin who bore God is able [capaz illa Dei Virgo ventura est], to come into the severity of the judgment, will any one dare desire to be judged by God? (St Hilary of Poitier, Homily on Psalm 118, see verse 20)

We see this concern about her being judged in Dormition homilies (stories about the Theotokos’ death) spanning throughout the entire Christian world. Within these homilies, we see a humility and awareness of falleness:

  • [Mary:]It has been revealed to me I shall depart…I am only afraid of the enemy who makes war on everyone. He can do nothing against the righteous, but he defeats the unbelieving and sinners. (Greek Homily, John of Thessalonica, Roman Legate during Constan III, Dormition Homily, Par 5)
  • Several quotations from Transitus Mariae, the “most widely disseminated of the western [dormition] texts” according to Dr. Najork, concur with John:
    • [Mary prays:] I ask that you send upon me your blessing, that no power of the lower world may withstand me in that hour in which my soul shall go out of my body, and that I may not see the prince of darkness. (Par 2)
    • [Mary prays:] Therefore I ask of Thee, O King of glory, that the power of Gehenna hurt me not. (Par 3)
    • [Mary prays:] Therefore receive me, Thy servant, and free me from the power of darkness, that no onset of Satan may oppose me, and that I may not see filthy spirits standing in my way. And the Savior answered her: When I, sent by my Father for the salvation of the world, was hanging on the cross, the prince of darkness came to me; but when he was able to find in me “no trace of his work” [quote from Leo’s Tome], he went off vanquished and trodden under foot. But when thou shall see him, thou shall see him indeed by the law of the human race, in accordance with which thou hast come to the end of thy life; but he cannot hurt thee, because I am with thee to help thee! (Par 7)
      • Take note, Jesus met Satan as one without original sin, while Mary will meet Satan in a condition contrary to His.
  • The Coptic Dormition Homily of Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem, authoritative for Oriental Orthodox, also has similar prayers:
    • [Mary prayed,] “[T]he Word of the Father was graciously pleased to come and to rescue us from the slavery of sin.” 
    • [Mary prayed,] “Let the Dragon flee before me…May the river of fire be tranquil when I come unto Thee, and may it allow me cross over it, for unto Thee belongs the power and the glory forever and ever.”

Orthodox do not believe she would have been judged for any act of sin. But, our spiritual writings portray those with humility being aware of their own sinfulness, even if they live extremely righteous lives. Hence, Orthodox can affirm the above ancient traditions that were prevalent in all corners of Christendom. Interestingly, Roman Catholics cannot due to their doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Mary corrupted and died

This is significant because if we understand original sin, bodily death and corruption come from being cut off from God’s vivifying energies due to an inheritance of Adam’s “sin.” Hence, her death is proof that she like us had original sin.

  • Some may object, “but Jesus Christ died!”
    • Since our Lord Jesus Christ was without sin (for He committed no sin, He Who took away the sin of the world, nor was there any deceit found in His mouth ) He was not subject to death, since death came into the world through sin. Romans 5:12 He dies, therefore, because He took on Himself death on our behalf, and He makes Himself an offering to the Father for our sakes (JoD, Exposition of the Faith, Book III, Chap 27.)
  • Was Mary subject to death? Yes.
    • You [Mary] had a body just like one of us and therefore could not escape the event of death, that is the common destiny of all human beings. (Germanus, On the Dormition, Homily I, Chap 6)
    • Adam and Eve, the ancestors of our race, cried out piercingly with joyful lips: “Blessed are you, our daughter…You inherited from us a corruptible body…” (Damascene, On the Dormition, Homily II, chap 8). 
    • Behold, the Virgin, daughter of Adam and Mother of God, because of Adam she commits her body to the Earth. (Damascene, On the Dormition, Homily III, chap 4)
    • [S]he simply followed the laws of nature and fulfilled God’s plan…she was moved through transformation from a corruptible state to an incorruptible one [when she was bodily assumed] (Andrew of Crete, On the Dormition, Homily II, chap 4). 

Mary was bodily assumed and intercedes for us in Heaven now

Most people think this belief is an invention from the middle ages. Documents as old as the third century convey Mary’s intercession on our behalf.

  • [T]he Virgin became a mother with great mercies. (second century, Ode of Solomon 19:7; CF probably strictly about the incarnation)
  • Bartholomew raised his voice and said thus: O womb more spacious than a city, wider than the spreading of the heavens, that contained him whom the seven heavens contain not, but thou without pain didst contain sanctified in thy bosom. (third century, Gospel of Bartholomew, 4:17)
  • …the holy and glorious Mary, Theotokos (Mother of God), and by her prayers have mercy on us all… (3rd century, Anaphora of Coptic Basil)
  • Beneath your compassion, We take refuge, O Mother of God: do not despise our petitions in time of trouble: but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one. (3rd-4th century, Sub Tuum Praesidium)