The Virgin Mary is the Theotokos, the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God. She conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was cared for by her betrothed husband, Joseph, who took the child and his mother into his home as his own. The birth of Jesus was miraculous and left Mary’s virginity intact. She is also called Panagia, the “All-Holy,” indicating her closeness to God in her obedience. The title Theotokos (in Greek, Θεοτόκος) is a Greek word that means “God-bearer” or “Birth-giver to God.” The title Our All-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is often used in Orthodox services when Mary is mentioned.
As a title for the Virgin Mary, Theotokos was recognized by the Orthodox Church at Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. It had already been in use for some time in the devotional and liturgical life of the Church. The theological significance of the title is to emphasize that Mary’s son, Jesus, is fully God, as well as fully human, and that Jesus’ two natures (divine and human) were united in a single Person of the Trinity.
The Liturgical year begins and ends with the feast days of the Theotokos. The Orthodox Church remembers the life of the Theotokos with four major feast days, as follows:
1. The Nativity of the Theotokos is celebrated on September 21/8.
2. The Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple is celebrated on December 4/November 21.
3. The Annunciation to the Theotokos is celebrated on April 7/March 25.
4. The Dormition of the Theotokos (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos is celebrated on August 28/15.
There are many hymns that are sung to the Theotokos, but two are heard the most often.
From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
It is truly meet and right to bless you, O Theotokos,
Ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.
More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
Without defilement you gave birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify you!
From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great:
All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace,
The assembly of Angels and the race of men.
O Sanctified Temple and Rational Paradise! O Glory of Virgins!
From you, God was incarnate and became a child, our God before the ages.
He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens.
All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace! Glory to you!
The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.
According to the story found in this book, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. They remained faithful to God, but their prayers for a child were unanswered. One day, when Joachim came to the temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest who chastised him for his lack of children. To hide his shame, Joachim retreated to the hill country to live among the shepherds and their flocks.
As Joachim was praying, his wife Anna was praying at the same time at their house in Jerusalem. An angel appeared to both of them and announced that Anna would have 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, Mary.