Hail, O Mary, full of grace [Luke 1:28]
EXPLANATION TO OBJECTION OF ST MARY’S SINLESS CONCEPTION [Part I]
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit One God Amen
The Holy Virgin, Mother of God, has a very special place in the Orthodox believers. The devotion to the Holy mother holds the highest place. Among the saints in heaven she is venerated in a special way. “It is impossible for any to describe the greatness of the Virgin,” we pray on the Praise of St. Mary read on Tuesday, “For God chose her, and dwelt upon her. He who dwelt in the light, whom none could approach was carried in her womb. He who is invisible, he who is incomprehensible did Mary bring forth, being a virgin..”. Because of the mission she received from God, her life is most closely linked with the mysteries of Jesus Christ [Mystery of Incarnation], and there is no one who has followed in the footsteps of the Incarnate Word more closely and with more merit than she. She is holier than the Cherubim and Seraphim. She enjoys unquestionably greater glory than all the other saints for she is full of grace. She is the Mother of God, who happily gave birth to the Redeemer for us. She is a glorified human soul, more perfect and more lovable than any other. St. Mary has the most exalted honor that a creature can attain in heaven, for through God's choosing of her for the destiny of being His Mother, through abundance of grace which He bestowed upon her, and through her fidelity in corresponding with the given grace. she has reached a degree of glory which places her higher than God's angels or His other Saints [ or any God's creatures] . This is why we always pray and recite, Hail Mary during the Liturgy saying,
Hail, O Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Pray and intercede for us with thy beloved Son,
That He forgive our sins.
There are many objections raised around the Eritrean dogmatic view of St Mary’s sinless conception. All objections, for sake of clarity, could be summed into three major fundamental questions. The first question/objection is as follows:- .
1. Isn’t St. Mary sanctified with the Holy Spirit when Angel Gabriel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God”? [Luke 1:35]. So how could she be called sinless since conception?
Angel Gabriel greeted St Mary first with a salutation saying, “Hail, full of grace,the Lord is with you!” [Lk 1:28]. This is a strange word, because it hasn’t been used in the bible previously with any person. The sentence “Hail, full of grace” has a meaning that is already accomplished in the past as opposed to the thing happening in the future. Fullness in grace indicates she is already free from all sin. Every sin diminishes grace as Adam and Eve lose their grace when they fall. Therefore, even before the angel proclaimed to St Mary about the Holy Spirit, he had already proclaimed her sinlessness. In the liturgy of St Mary, Abba Heryacos mentions “how truly God the Father looked down from heaven to all direction.. and breathed in every savor found none like …. saw your purity ..and so he sent his effulgent angel” to indicate her sinless before the incarnation [Anaphora of St Mary Page 187; Psalm 131:13. ].
The angel’s word on Luke 1:35 is a response to St Mary’s question, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”. She is asking in which manner she will conceive a Son without a man!. According to the Eritrean Orthodox Church the Holy Spirit came as the bible literally said, to “overshadow” not to redeem her [as she has already saved since her conception]. The Church believes the three persons in God - The Father, the Son and Holy Spirit have [dwelled upon her] played a role for the incarnation to happen:-
The Father has given her a strengthen [..and fortify and preserve her] so as she could bore God Son who the “heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain” [1 King 8:27] Him. King David says, “holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early”[Psalm 46:5]. The Son has taken flesh and soul from St Mary so that the Word could become flesh and dwelt among us [John 1:14]. The Holy Spirit sanctifies “overshadow” her [not from sin; already discussed above] in the following three ways:- He has enabled her to conceive the Son without sexual intercourse and receiving the seed of a man. In addition, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, she also remained virgin before, during and after birth of Jesus Christ [Ezechiel 44:2 ]. Therefore, the action of the Holy Spirit has to do with which manner the conception of the Son of God had happened in response to St Mary’s question to the angel. The action of the Holy Spirit in the moment of incarnation is explicitly written in the book of Matthew saying, “after His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:18]”.
The core idea here is that St Mary is preserved [free] from original sin since conception and has never been touched by personal sin. The Church Scholars teach that the Mystery of Incarnation could only be preserved and find its consistent teaching in-light of the dogmatic teaching of St Mary’s sinless conception. From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, the bible showed that she was chosen from the beginning to be part of His grand plan of redemption. Prophet Isaiah describes God’s choice’s and preservation of St Mary as, “Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.”[Is 1:9] Her father King Solomon also described her sinless since conception saying, “You are all fair, my love, And there is no spot in you.” [Song of Solomon 4:7].
“Rejoice, Oh, Vessel unblemished, perfect, and spotless Woman”
May Her intercession and blessings be with us now and forever. Amen.
Next ----- Question to be answered --The doctrine would imply St Mary’s needless of a savior? Some would go accusing the Eritrean Orthodox Church as far as equating God with saying St Mary is free from “original sin”? If say, St Mary is free from all sin, wouldn't we imply she is heavenly or not human.