Once a month in our fair little city the Greek Orthodox (GO) priest from Regina celebrates with the local Greek community. On a number of occasions I have joined these ecumenical brothers and sisters – perhaps a little off-topic, but this began after a certain funeral for an Anglican woman whose widower was GO (in origin), and whom I took to worship in the church of his upbringing. This past Wednesday was one such occasion – and I was both surprised and pleased to meet, for the second time, the GO metropolis (bishop) while he visited Saskatchewan. I still cannot place if it was a year ago that I met him, or two years ago – but this is another aside.
I was speaking with my brother about my experiences with the GO community, which are not unfamiliar to his own experiences – having spent a year in Cyprus, and working closely with the Cypriot Orthodox Church there (as well as the Anglican), which is Greek-speaking. Somehow our conversation turned to Mary, and the common way of referring to her in the GO liturgy, which is Theotokos. Now, this is a key word – and its importance shouldn’t be lost on us. Theotokos means, literally, God-bearer. In English we more regularly translate it as “Mother of God.”
To protestant ears, this phrase sounds like it venerates Mary. Interesting point of Church history, though, is that theologically speaking, calling Mary the Mother of God is a Christological point. It is affirming that Jesus, who is Mary’s son in the flesh, is fully God. Calling Mary “the Mother of God,” then, is not a point of venerating Mary to divine status or a point of idolatry. It is a point of orthodox Christian theology, that Jesus – though fully human – is fully God. This was, of course, a long discussion for the early Christians. It isn’t a question any more, because it was handled thoroughly then.
The point is, calling Mary “the Mother of God,” is something that protestants should be able to affirm, with their Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. Because we all believe that Jesus is fully God.