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I can't see there being anything wrong with the Immaculate Conception, nor original sin. After I looked at these issues seriously, considering what they really teach, I do no oppose it as I did before. I will say I was prompted to look into this by anonymously receiving a rosary with a Miraculous Medal on it, but I'm glad I was "prodded". This also prompts me to believe in the Immaculata, the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her image and her message are very special to me. I also believe in "offering it up".

And I love being Orthodox, especially in America, where the pool is so small anyway that it's like being in a second family. I love that I'll look forward to getting marriage advice from a married priest, and that my babies will receive the Eucharist. I love the (relatively) lack of liturgical abuses.

That's all to say that even though I believe in traditionally Roman Catholic teachings about the Virgin without seeing the need to leave Orthodoxy, I can't particularly stop being a bit miffed when my fellow Orthodox give reasons for disbelief in the IC that are just not true (or just herectical: unfortunately, to get around the IC some resort to making the Theotokos seem semi-Pelagian). Are there any balanced resources I can get that addresses "Orthodox" (but really just some Orthodox) concerns about things like this? I thought Eastern Catholicism would be a good place to start.

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Originally Posted by DoxRox
I can't see there being anything wrong with the Immaculate Conception, nor original sin.

In that case you may rejoice because you were also immaculately conceived. The Orthodox teaching is that every human being, including the Mother of God, is conceived in the same spiritual state.

So, if she were conceived immaculately, then so were you and I, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Pope Benedict XVI.

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Fr. Ambrose,

Do Orthodox permit the theological opinion that the Theotokos was indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of her conception?

Fr. Deacon Lance


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Originally Posted by Hieromonk Ambrose
Originally Posted by DoxRox
I can't see there being anything wrong with the Immaculate Conception, nor original sin.

In that case you may rejoice because you were also immaculately conceived. The Orthodox teaching is that every human being, including the Mother of God, is conceived in the same spiritual state.

So, if she were conceived immaculately, then so were you and I, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Pope Benedict XVI.

I actually didn't want to actually debate this on this thread, but I'm fine with reasoning together if it will allow me to get a balanced view on things if/when I'm ever asked.

Her conception and my baptism both washed away original sin. Both were (are?) the work of Christ. I nor you were full of grace from the very beginning of existence.

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Originally Posted by Fr. Deacon Lance
Fr. Ambrose,

Do Orthodox permit the theological opinion that the Theotokos was indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of her conception?

Fr. Deacon Lance

This is what seems to be the case, but I have only read about such a case. In conversations I've encountered personally, the IC is presumed false. Since it is theological opinion, I don't feel the need for others to agree, I just get squeamish when denying the IC can unknowingly teeter towards heresy. This is especially an issue with teaching catechumens and inquirers...that might be a whole 'nother thread though!

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Originally Posted by Fr. Deacon Lance
Do Orthodox permit the theological opinion that the Theotokos was indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of her conception?

I do not know and do not have time right now to sit and ponder all the implications and forage through patristic compendia.

Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary *at the time she conceived Jesus Christ.* That seems to be saying that He was not indwelling within her previously.

This makes sense from the point of view of the Orthodox belief (patristic citations needed) that prior to Christ' redemptive act, the Spirit acted upon mankind only externally. This is why the Jews were able to achieve only righteousness, but the higher level of sanctity which requires the indwelling of the Spirit was out of their reach. After the great act of redemption and the reception of the Spirit at Pentecost the Spirit came to dwell in the souls and bodies of the baptized, acting interiorly.

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The Patriarch and the Immaculate Conception

In December of 2004, the Italian Catholic newspaper Thirty Days ran a story about the 150th anniversary of the Roman proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as dogma. As part of that, they interviewed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew about the Orthodox Akathist to the Theotokos -- a truly beautiful prayer/poem/song -- and in passing asked him about the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The Patriarch politely told them that it was wrong, and correctly identified its roots as being in the notion of original sin. It is a brief but excellent presentation of the Orthodox position:

(Question): The Catholic Church this year celebrates the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. How does the Eastern Christian and Byzantine Tradition celebrate the Conception of Mary and her full and immaculate holiness?

Bartholomew I: The Catholic Church found that it needed to institute a new dogma for Christendom about one thousand and eight hundred years after the appearance of the Christianity, because it had accepted a perception of original sin – a mistaken one for us Orthodox – according to which original sin passes on a moral stain or a legal responsibility to the descendants of Adam, instead of that recognized as correct by the Orthodox faith – according to which the sin transmitted through inheritance the corruption, caused by the separation of mankind from the uncreated grace of God, which makes him live spiritually and in the flesh. Mankind shaped in the image of God, with the possibility and destiny of being like to God, by freely choosing love towards Him and obedience to his commandments, can even after the fall of Adam and Eve become friend of God according to intention; then God sanctifies them, as he sanctified many of the progenitors before Christ, even if the accomplishment of their ransom from corruption, that is their salvation, was achieved after the incarnation of Christ and through Him.

In consequence, according to the Orthodox faith, Mary the All-holy Mother of God was not conceived exempt from the corruption of original sin, but loved God above of all things and obeyed his commandments, and thus was sanctified by God through Jesus Christ who incarnated himself of her. She obeyed Him like one of the faithful, and addressed herself to Him with a Mother’s trust. Her holiness and purity were not blemished by the corruption, handed on to her by original sin as to every man, precisely because she was reborn in Christ like all the saints, sanctified above every saint.

Her reinstatement in the condition prior to the Fall did not necessarily take place at the moment of her conception. We believe that it happened afterwards, as consequence of the progress in her of the action of the uncreated divine grace through the visit of the Holy Spirit, which brought about the conception of the Lord within her, purifying her from every stain.

As already said, original sin weighs on the descendants of Adam and of Eve as corruption, and not as legal responsibility or moral stain. The sin brought hereditary corruption and not a hereditary legal responsibility or a hereditary moral stain. In consequence the All-holy participated in the hereditary corruption, like all mankind, but with her love for God and her purity – understood as an imperturbable and unhesitating dedication of her love to God alone – she succeeded, through the grace of God, in sanctifying herself in Christ and making herself worthy of becoming the house of God, as God wants all us human beings to become.

Therefore we in the Orthodox Church honor the All-holy Mother of God above all the saints, albeit we don’t accept the new dogma of her Immaculate Conception. The non-acceptance of this dogma in no way diminishes our love and veneration of the All-holy Mother of God.

http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/ThirtyDaysPatBart.php

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It is my eschatological hope that one day an Orthodox patriarch, bishop, priest, or theologian will be able to accurate state the Catholic conception of original sin as presently taught by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Catechism has been out now for a number of years. Orthodox might like to take a look at its sections on original sin and the Immaculate Conception.

I think the following is a legitimate question: How much of current Orthodox opposition to the IC is grounded on the papal dogmatization of the dogma. Whatever the Pope says, we're agin it. But might Orthodox believers have welcome some form of the doctrine in earlier centuries. Fr Casimir Kucharek thinks so. Perhaps Dave Brown will forgive me for posting his article on the subject:

Orthodoxy and the the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of
the Theotokos--
Unique to the modern Roman Church or ancient Eastern tradition?


Has Eastern Orthodoxy always opposed the doctrine of the
Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos, the Mother of God? She is
praised in the Megalynarion hymn in the Divine Liturgy and in Vespers
and Matins showing the pre-eminence of Mary among the saints:

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and
most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the
Cheribum, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
without defilement you gave birth to God the Word: True
Theotokos, we magnify you.

How is the Theotokos "most pure"? Most Orthodox would say that
she was without sin at the Annunciation, but would disagree that the
Virgin Mary was conceived immaculate by St. Anne. Fr. Peter E. Gillquist
comments in _Becoming Orthodox_:

However, the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a doctrine
unknown in the ancient Church and unique to the modern Roman
Church.

He later refers to

the Roman Church with its questionable late dogmatic
additions concerning Mary. (pp. 119, 122)

Fr. Casimir Kucharek in his magnus opus _The Byzantine-Slav
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom_ (1971; Alleluia Press, pp. 355-357)
marshals the evidence that the early Eastern Church did believe in and
commemorate the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos:

Also, from end to end of the Byzantine world, both Catholic
and Orthodox greet the Mother of God as _archrantos_, "the
immaculate, spotless one," no less than eight times in the
Divine Liturgy alone. But especially on the feast of her
conception (December 9 in the Byzantine Church) is her
immaculateness stressed: "This day, O faithful, from saintly
parents begins to take being the spotless lamb, the most pure
tabernacle, Mary..."; "She is conceived...the only immaculate
one"; "or "Having conceived the most pure dove, Anne
filled...." [References: From the Office of Matins, the Third
Ode of the Canon for the feast; From the Office of Matins,
the Stanzas during the Seating, for the same feast; From the
Office of Matins, the Sixth Ode of the Canon for the same
feast.]

Fr. Kucharek continues:

No sin, no fault, not even the slightest, ever marred the
perfect sanctity of this masterpiece of God's creation. For
hundred of years, the Byzantine Church has believed this,
prayed and honored Mary in this way. Centuries of sacred
tradition stand behind this title. [The very vastness of
available testimony precludes listing. Two excellent surveys
may be consulted: A. Ballerini, _Sylloge monumentorum ad
mysterium conceptionis immaculatae virginis deiparae
spectantium_ (Rome, 1854-1855), and C. Passaglia, _De
immaculato deiparae semper virginis conceptu commentarius_
(Rome, 1854 -1855).] Even during the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries, when some Western theologians doubted or denied
the truth of her immaculate conception, Byzantine Catholic
and Orthodox theologians unanimously taught it.

In support of this statement, Fr. Kucharek cites these
references in a footnote on pp. 355-356:

Among the better known ninth to thirteenth century Byzantine
theologians: Patriarch Photius in his homilies _De
Annuntiatione_ and _De Nativitate Deiparae_ (S. Aristarchis,
_Photiou logoi kai homiliai_, Vol. II [Constantinople, 1900],
pp. 230-245, 368-380); George of Nicomedia in his homilies
(PG 100, 1336-1504), especially _Conceptione deiparae_ and
_Praesentatione Mariae virginis_; Michael Psellos in the
recently discovered and edited homily _De Annuntiatione_ (PO
16, pp. 517-525); John Phurnensis, _Oratione de Dormitione_
(G. Palamas, _Theophanous tou kerameos homiliai_, [Jerusalem,
1860], append., pp. 271-276); Michael Glykas, _Annales_, III
(PG 158, 439-442); Germanus II, Patriarch of Constantinople,
_In annuntiationem_ (edit. Ballerini, op. cit., Vol. II, pp.
283-382); Theognostos the Monk, _In dormitionem_ (PO 16, pp.
457-562); Nicetas David, _In nativitatem B.M.V._ (PG 105,
16-28); Leo the Wise, _In dormitionem_ and _In
praesentationeum_ (PG 107, 12-21); Patriarch Euthymius of
Constantinople, _In Conceptionem Annae_ (PO 16, pp. 499-505);
Bishop Peter Argorum, _In conceptionem B. Annae_(PG 104,
1352-1365); John Mauropos, _In dormitionem_ (PG 120,
1075-1114); James the Monk, _In nativitatem et in
praesentationem B.M.V._ (PO 16, pp. 528-538). Cf. Jugie,
_L'immaculee Conception dans l'Ecriture Sainte et dans la
tradition orientale [Rome, 1952], pp. 164-307, for others.

Fr. Kucharek notes that Eastern theologians took St. Thomas
Aquinas to task on this issue. (Aquinas did not believe in the
Immaculate Conception):

Two of Thomas Aquinas' most ardent disciples among the Greeks
disagreed with him on one point only, his failure to admit
the immaculate conception of the Mother of God. Demetrios
Kydonios (fourteenth century) translated some of Aquinas'
works into Greek, but vehemently opposed Thomas' views on the
immaculate conception. [Demetrios Kydonios, _Hom. in
annuntiationem deiparae_, contained in _Cod. Paris gr._,
1213 (cf. Jugie, op cit., pp. 276-279.] No less did the other
great Thomist, Georgios Scholarios (fifteenth century), in
his synopsis of the immaculate conception. [Georgios
Scholarios, _In dormitionem_ (PO 16, p. 577); cf.
Petit-Siderides-Jugie; _Oeuvres completes de Georges
Scholarios_, Vol. 1 [Paris, 1928], pp. 202-203; also
Petit-Sisderides-Jugie, op. cit., I, p. 501; also Jugie,
_Georges Scholarios et l'Immaculee Conception_, Echos
d'Orient (Paris-Istanbul, 17 [1915], pp. 527-530.]

How did Orthodoxy come to reject the Immaculate Conception of
the Theotokos? Fr. Kucharek concludes:

The Greek Orthodox Church's belief in the immaculate
conception continued unanimously until the fifteenth century,
then many Greek theologians began to adopt the idea that Mary
had been made immaculate at the moment of the Annunciation.
[Nicholas Callixtus, however, expressed doubt during the
fourteenth century (cf. Jugie _L'Immaculee Conception dans
l'Ecriture Sainte et dans la tradition orientale_, p. 2130,
but the great Cabasilas' (1371) teaching on the immaculate
conception (_In nativitatem_ [PO 19, pp. 468-482]; _In
dormitionem_ [PO 19, pp. 498-504]) still had great influence
in the subsequent centuries. Perhaps even more influential
was Patriarch Gregory Palamas (1446-1452) whose homilies on
the Mother of God are second to none even today (_De
hypapante_; _De annuntiatione_; _De dormitione_ [PG 151];
also _In Christi genealogiam_ and _In praesentationem_ [edit.
K. Sophocles, _Tou en hagiois patros emon Gregoriou tou
Palama homiliai_, Athens, 1861]). Among the Eastern Slavs,
belief in the immaculate conception went undisturbed until
the seventeenth century, when the Skrizhal (Book of Laws)
appeared in Russia, and proposed what the Slavs considered
the "novel" doctrine of the Greeks. The views proposed in the
Skrizhal were branded as blasphemous, especially among the
_Staroviery_ (Old Believers), who maintained the ancient
customs and beliefs, however small or inconsequential. [Cf.
N. Subbotin, _Materialy dlja istorii Roskola_, Vol. IV
(Moscow, 1878), pp. 39-50, 229, and Vol. 1 (Moscow, 1874), p.
457.] This reaction confirms the ancient Byzantine and Slav
tradition of the immaculate conception. Only after Pope Pius
IX defined the dogma in 1854 did opposition to the doctrine
solidify among most Orthodox theologians. The Orthodox
Church, however, has never made any definitive pronouncement
on the matter. When Patriarch Anthimos VII, for example,
wrote his reply to Pope Leo XIII's letter in 1895, and listed
what he believed to be the errors of the Latins, he found no
fault with their belief in the immaculate conception, but
objected to the fact that the Pope had defined it.

--Dave Brown

How do we explain that the Virgin Mary never committed a sin during her entire life? Does that not offer some support to the suggestion that the Holy Spirit was present as deifying power in his life from the very beginning of her existence?

How do we explain that she, and only she, achieved such a deep spiritual freedom that she, and only she, could assent completely and fully to the summons to bear the incarnate Word?

I sometimes wonder: How well do the Orthodox truly know their Sacred Tradition on this question? If they looked more deeply, might they find some real measure of sympathy and perhaps even support for the IC dogma, once it is purified of any notions of "original guilt."

One of the driving forces of the IC dogma is to combat any picture of a Pelagian Mary achieving the freedom of her Fiat through her own ascetical efforts.

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Fr. Kimel, as usual, makes some great observations and asks good questions. I do want to clarify that almost all the material he attributes to me is not mine but was written by Fr. Kucharek.

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Originally Posted by Fr_Kimel
I sometimes wonder: How well do the Orthodox truly know their Sacred Tradition on this question?

The Church has in a most marvellous way and comprehensive way embodied its deposit of faith in its liturgical deposit. Within the liturgical deposit the Church has chosen to preserve and give voice to what is true and to be affirmed from the Holy Fathers and the sacred Tradition and it has not incorporated whatever in them may be faulty and erroneous (for an example, think of apokatastasis.)

If we had ever had a now abandoned belief in the Immaculate Conception it would be found in the Feast day for the Conception of Saint Anna. But it simply is not. A belief in the Immaculate Conception is not to be found in our liturgical deposit.

This kind of argument may not impress a Roman Catholic but it is solid as concrete for Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics. For us the maxim of 'Lex orandi lex credendi' is of uttermost significance in the transmission of the holy faith.

PS: It is interesting that this type pf patristic thinking animated Saint Bernard of Clairvaux's rejection of the Immaculate Conception. The Orthodox see him as the last of the theologians of the West who was possessed of a deeply patristic mindset. Bernard saw the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as an novel and unheard of doctrine which had no credibility because it was absent from the Tradition of the Church.

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Here is the traditional voice of Bernard of Clairvaux on the Immaculate Conception (12th century.) He rejects it quite vigorously. Bernard, although post-schism, is seen by some Orthodox theologians as the last voice of the patristic mindset in the West. After him the older patristic approach begins to be overlaid by scholasticism.

"I am frightened now, seeing that certain of you have desired to change the condition of important matters, introducing a new festival unknown to the Church, unapproved by reason, unjustified by ancient tradition. Are we really more learned and more pious than our fathers? You will say, 'One must glorify the Mother of God as much as Possible.' This is true; but the glorification given to the Queen of Heaven demands discernment. This Royal Virgin does not have need of false glorifications, possessing as She does true crowns of glory and signs of dignity. Glorify the purity of Her flesh and the sanctity of Her life. Marvel at the abundance of the gifts of this Virgin; venerate Her Divine Son; exalt Her Who conceived without knowing concupiscence and gave birth without knowing pain. But what does one yet need to add to these dignities? People say that one must revere the conception which preceded the glorious birth-giving; for if the conception had not preceded, the birth-giving also would not have been glorious. But what would one say if anyone for the same reason should demand the same kind of veneration of the father and mother of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for Her grandparents and great-grandparents, to infinity.

Moreover, how can there not be sin in the place where there was concupiscence? All the more, let one not say that the Holy Virgin was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of man. I say decisively that the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, but not that He came with Her."

"I say that the Virgin Mary could not be sanctified before Her conception, inasmuch as She did not exist. if, all the more, She could not be sanctified in the moment of Her conception by reason of the sin which is inseparable from conception, then it remains to believe that She was sanctified after She was conceived in the womb of Her mother. This sanctification, if it annihilates sin, makes holy Her birth, but not Her conception. No one is given the right to be conceived in sanctity; only the Lord Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and He alone is holy from His very conception.
Excluding Him, it is to all the descendants of Adam that must be referred that which one of them says of himself, both out of a feeling of humility and in acknowledgement of the truth: Behold I was conceived in iniquities (Ps. 50:7). How can one demand that this conception be holy, when it was not the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention that it came from concupiscence? The Holy Virgin, of course, rejects that glory which, evidently, glorifies sin. She cannot in any way justify a novelty invented in spite of the teaching of the Church, a novelty which is the mother of imprudence, the sister of unbelief, and the daughter of lightmindedness."

Epistle 147

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Fr. Ambrose, thank you for this.

At the risk of offending some (though it is not my intention), I wish to raise a point, one that has always bugged me even in my Catholic days.

We all have free will. Thus, Mary could have said "no." In fact, how do we know if many other women did not previously say no? We don't. We don't even think about it, but it's not impossible. Thus, if we accept the Catholic teaching of the IC, then how many women were conceived immaculately before Mary, and subsequently said no?

Because otherwise, if Mary was predestined or pre-ordained to be Theotokos (which is very well possible, no doubt), there's a certain loss of free will on her part. So we all are born with free will but Mary. So she's not fully human. Which would work fine, I'm sure for some, especially those in the "Mediatrix" camp. But for Christ to be fully human, than Mary must be fully human as well. Which is why I believe the Orthodox position makes more sense, for "what God has not assumed, God has not saved" (St. Gregory of Nyssa).

Forgive me if this sounds flippant or offensive, but it's something we should consider.

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I believe that the quote about "what was not assumed would not have been healed" is not from St. Gregory of Nyssa, but from St. Gregory the Theologian (St. Gregory of Nazianzus for the westerners among us).

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Perhaps one way of thinking about this is to ask: At any point in her life did the Virgin Mary ever need to recite the Canon of St Andrew in the same way and enthusiasm that the rest of us do?

Fr Ambrose writes above:
Quote
from the point of view of the Orthodox belief (patristic citations needed) that prior to Christ' redemptive act, the Spirit acted upon mankind only externally. This is why the Jews were able to achieve only righteousness, but the higher level of sanctity which requires the indwelling of the Spirit was out of their reach. After the great act of redemption and the reception of the Spirit at Pentecost the Spirit came to dwell in the souls and bodies of the baptized, acting interiorly.

Mary conceived Jesus before Pentecost. Was her righteousness only of an external kind? Did she commit sin before the Annunciation? Did she commit sin afterwards? Was she ever under the dominion of Satan? When was she delivered from his dominion?



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Quote
But what would one say if anyone for the same reason should demand the same kind of veneration of the father and mother of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for Her grandparents and great-grandparents, to infinity.
This was always my objection to the IC when I was Latin Catholic. Glad to know that my thinking aligns with St. Bernard!

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