Mary, the Woman
Just as our Lord Jesus Christ is the true and Second Adam—the true man, through whom all humanity can become truly human—so also is Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos) the true and second Eve. She is The Woman, through whose womb was salvation and the restoration of the cosmos wrought.
We see Jesus call upon his mother in this way in the Gospel According to John:
And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus saith to her: ‘Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come.’ His mother saith to the waiters: ‘Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.’ (John 2:3-5)
While some interpret this passage through modern language and culture—believing that Jesus has “rebuked” his own mother—what Jesus is saying here is actually a great sign of respect. And indeed, Jesus obeys his mother, and does exactly as she says. The Mother of God in turn gives us the most important of precepts as followers of Christ: “Do whatever He tells you.”
Beyond this, however, we see Mary connected in this language to the first mother of the living—Eve. In the ancient book of Genesis, the creation of the woman is related as such:
And God cast a trance upon Adam, and he slept, and he took one of his ribs and filled up flesh in its place. And the rib that he had taken from Adam the Lord God fastened into a woman and brought her to Adam. And Adam said, ‘This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of her husband she was taken.’ (Genesis 2:21-23, Septuagint)
Later, when Adam and Eve turn their back on God and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Lord questions them as to how they can now realize that they are naked. Adam responds: ”‘The woman, whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’” The Lord then calls out to the dragon/serpent, saying, “I will put enmity between you [the dragon/serpent] and between the woman and between your offspring and between her offspring; he will watch your head, and you will watch his heel’” (3:12,15 LXX). Of course, we now know that the “offspring” (“seed”) of the woman was ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ; and it is through him that we achieve victory over the great dragon and over death itself.
Later in this story, Adam names his wife: “And Adam called the name of his wife ‘Life,’ because she is the mother of all the living” (3:20, LXX). What we see in the Gospel is that Mary has now taken the place of “Life” (Eve) as the mother of all the living, for it is through her son that true Life has come into the world.
This place of Mary as the “second Eve” was a belief universal to the early Church, as well. Writing in the 100s (A.D.), and trained as a disciple of the Apostle John and St. Polycarp the martyr, St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes:
For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should bear God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. (Against Heresies, 5:19:1)
Elsewhere, he likewise writes:
Adam had to be recapitulated in Christ so that mortality might be swallowed up in immortality. Eve had to be recapitulated in Mary so that a virgin would be the intercessor for a virgin, and by the obedience of a virgin, undo and overcome the disobedience of a virgin. (Apostolic Preaching, 32)
Besides the fact that we are to know Mary as the “Second Eve” and true mother of the Living, it is incumbent upon all Christians to confess her as the “Mother of God,” “God-Bearer,” or Theotokos (in Greek). This title is principally not pointing to Mary alone, but to the fact that Christ is truly God and eternally begotten of the Father as one of the Holy Trinity (in opposition to both the Arian and Nestorian heresies, which wrought havoc in the early Church). Again, as related above, St. Irenaeus is an early witness: “The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God” (Against Heresies, 5:19:1).
St. Hippolytus of Rome, writing in AD 217, also relates this truth:
[The Prophets] preached of the advent of God in the flesh to the world, his advent by the spotless and God-bearing Mary in the way of birth and growth… (Discourse on the End of the World)
The belief that The Woman is the “Mother of God” is an essential article of our faith, and to confess otherwise (for example, to call her merely “the Mother of Christ”) is a condemned heresy of the universal Church. The Second Council of Constantinople in 553 (an Ecumenical council) declared:
If anyone shall not confess that the Logos of God has two nativities: the one from all eternity of the Father, without time and without body; the other in these last days, coming down from heaven and being made flesh of the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and always a virgin, and born of her: let him be anathema.
Finally, it was already common in the early Church (by the beginning of the second century, following her repose in peace at Ephesus) to ask Mary (along with the other saints and martyrs) for her intercessions, as well as to celebrate feasts in her honor.
The Rylands Papyri—which were discovered in recent history—records one of the earliest written prayers (AD 250) to Mary: “Beneath thy tenderness of heart we take refuge, O Theotokos; disdain not our supplications in our necessity, but deliver us from perils, O only pure and blessed one.”
Already by the time of St. Gregory the Wonderworker (AD 262), the feast of the Annunciation was a routine celebration in the liturgical life of the Church:
It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and hymnal celebrations; and first of all, the feast of the Annunciation to the Holy Mother of God, to wit, the salutation made to her by the angel, ‘Hail, full of grace!’ (St Gregory of Neocaesarea, Four Homilies, 2)
Besides all of this, we know that in the Roman catacombs (first century AD) there were already iconographic depictions of the Virgin on the walls of martyrs’ tombs, alongside that of Christ and his disciples (at the Mystical Supper).
The Orthodox veneration of Mary—the Second Eve and the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin—was not a late “innovation” of the Church, influenced by pagan worship or other such nonsense. It was very much an integral part of the theology and dogma of the earliest Christians, from the time of her death all the way down to today in the same holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Vincent Martini has a BA in Philosophy from Indiana University and is an Orthodox convert / layman in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. He resides in northwest Arkansas.