- Orthodox churches
It is important to consider that the eastern Church of Byzantium, separated from Rome in 1054, suffered the invasion of Islam progressively until it culminated in the taking of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. Since the 15th century, their Orthodox Christian communities have remained “self-cephalic” (each patriarch is autonomous), although they tend to have links between civil and religious power. The eastern Roman Empire, with capital in Constantinople, since the time of Theodosius, had territorial boundaries but its confines also depended on professed and celebrated faith.
Moreover, since Charlemagne’s (ninth century), Christians in the East and west have been separated by political, legal, cultural and religious differences. The division became apparent with the schism of the East in 1054, when Patriarch Miguel Cerulario excommunicated the Bishop of Rome, and Pope Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Orthodox Christians were long under Arab rule, except for churches in Ethiopia and Egypt that were poor. The Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptics were headquartered in Alexandria and regarded the Muslims as liberators of Constantinople and Antioch, whom they saw with suspicion of heresy of the monophysite. Syria was invaded by the Muslims. Armenia (now divided between Turkey, Russia and Iraq) incorporated traditions of the early church and was separated from Byzantium before 1000.
The various “autocephalic” churches emerged to fifteen today. The last self-cephalic church recognized by the patriarch of Constantinople is that of Ukraine, which has officially separated from Moscow on January 6, 2019, despite the protest of the Russian Orthodox patriarch.1
Assyrians, Babylonians and Chaldeans had geographical and cultural expansion between the 9th and 14th centuries, but today only vestiges remain in India with Christians of juggling rite. Armenians and Kurds have been very persecuted, although they had very rich liturgies of their own until the 12th century. The Coptics have a rich liturgical production, but they have also been persecuted in Egypt. In her particular liturgy they continue to dedicate the month of December to Mary. Ethiopian Orthodox possess a rich liturgy and iconography. Jacobite Syrians, under the oppression of Muslims, have been sidelined from public office.
Orthodox of Byzantine origin have different realities today. The Greeks and Slavs stand out. Among the Slavs are those of Kiev (Ukraine) and those of Moscow, who received the heritage of Byzantium, very well reflected in iconography and liturgy. The Byzantine church has the greatest theological reflection and has best preserved its rites and iconography.
In general, Christians in autocephalic Orthodox churches prioritize symbology, liturgy and mystique. They received great monastic and ascetic influence from the beginning of the patristics with Juan Crisóstomo, Basilio, Gregorio Nacianceno, Gregorio Niceno, until reaching Juan Damasceno, Focio and Miguel Cerulario. After the schism, Byzantine orthodoxy continued with its rich liturgical and iconographic tradition and remained united from 1054 (Eastern Schism) to 1453 (taking Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks).
- Orthodox theology in Byzantium (1054-1453)
Orthodox theology goes hand in hand with the liturgy. In this period, between the schism of the East and the invasion of Constantinople by the Turks, the Greek-speaking and Slavic Orthodox codified the great liturgical festivals. Mary is embedded in the Paschal Mystery. Holy Saturday is dedicated to the veneration of the painful Mother. There is also the feast of Mary’s “protection” (Prokov for the Slavs and Blacherne for the Greeks) venerating their garments.
From a dogmatic perspective, the Orthodox of Byzantium are guided by the patristic currents of Chrysostome and cappodontics (iv century) and John Damascene (viii century) and by the late scholastic of the fourteenth century, which would be the golden century of Orthodox dogmatics. Theologians will be supported in their spiritual journey by the monks of Mount Athos (Greece).
In the period of Orthodox unity during the xi to fifteenth centuries the traditional union between theology and mystique, of Sacred Scripture with Tradition and the Liturgy, is maintained. Theologians of this era collect old trends and new ferments. They consider five important theologians of reference: Juan evangelista, Gregorio Nacianceno (the Theologian), Maximus the Confessor, Simeon the new theologian and Gregorio Palamás.
In orthodoxy there is no separation between theology and liturgy: hymns and homilies are ways of doing theology. The celebration of liturgical feasts are occasions to expose the doctrine. (Lex orandi, lex credendi). In the East, the liturgy is the place of catechesis, writing, symbols, icons and tradition. The Bible is interpreted in a patristic and liturgical framework. His liturgy is always solemn and long. (In the West, the liturgy is shorter, sober, and concise; the biblical texts and hymns are smaller.)
In the homilies about Mary’s “Presentation” in the temple, Mary who prepares to be Mother of God and to transform into a divine Ark is highlighted; the importance of monastic life is also highlighted.
Images (icons) are of great importance not only liturgical but catechetical and dogmatic: theology of beauty. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, the Son, and the Servant. The Son is an eternal (uncreated) and temporal source (son of Mary). The Trinity is understood through the Incarnate Son: in him God becomes an epiphany and manifests his Love to us.
For orthodoxy, being a Christian means becomes an image of the Archetype, being a faithful copy of the original model that is Christ. St John the Evangelist part of the Word to descend into the flesh; Paul comes to the pre-existing God from the historical Christ, dead and risen. Christ the Lord is Alpha and Omega, for everything is recapited in Him. The Kingdom will come when the world is set up with Christ and becomes “one child” in the Son. Western theology and pastoral care are more focused from the perspective of sin (felix culpa) involving redemption, while the Orientals underline the theology of the image (man is the image of God), Christ is King-Savior according to the theology of glory (doxa) without the cross.
In God’s plan is the Incarnation, before sin. God will not become a man without Mary. The Word becomes flesh in Mary, who represents the first person in history. Man is divinized in the Son of God (original model) and God becomes man in mary’s bosom. Men become what God dreamed of in his original project by the incarnation of Christ. For the Orthodox, the dogmas of the Immaculate and the Assumption are seen as gifts from below and not so much singular privileges from on high. According to their theological vision, they do not need to be “promulgated” to be believed and celebrated.
As for the origin of evil and sin, Western theologians (Agustín, Luther) say that it is inscribed in the human generation (of male semen), since the generation would be infisified by lust and passions. This explains the universality of original sin (with the exception of Mary), which implies the universality of redemption (to remove sin and guilt) and (spiritual) Grace that come to us from Jesus Christ, the unique and universal Savior.
Oriental theologians distinguish between soul (psiche: logos + pneuma) and body (soma). The body is weak, but without personal sin for Adam was fragile by the first sin; Adam’s inheritance would be weakness, mortality, and corruption, but not guilt. The center of Eastern soteriology is not placed in sin and redemption, but in the likeness and image of man with God, in the glorification that we can attain thanks to the Incarnation that divinizes us, in the recapitulation of all things in Christ (Theiosis). By the Incarnate Son we can become children of God by being children of Adam.
Mary attains in her being “pure and original humanity”, because in it the “divine image and likeness” received at the origin was never degraded. This is a gift, a grace, but it is also grace of human nature. That’s why his fiat was totally free. Freedom or free will appears at the heart of the problem. God is good, and everything created is good; evil would come from ill-employed freedom, also a source of diversity.
For Aristotelian philosophy, man reaches maturity when he can beget other men; for the Orientals, man is perfectly mature when he can beget God. For this reason, Mary is the first mature fruit in human history, the most expressive apex of her potential because she begat in her bosom and gave birth to Emmanuel (God with us).
- Marian Orthodox festivities
During this period the Marian festivities that were celebrated since ancient times are held, before the division between Christians of the East and the West. The celebration of the Marian festivities also indicated the profession of faith of the Church. After the schism, East and West continued to celebrate the Marian festivities, albeit with different nuances.
According to Orthodox theology, in the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit purifies and sanctifies Mary (prokatarsis) to conceive of the Holy One and to be the “wife” of the Word. It is like a new Creation, God’s (deposorious) Alliance (in Christ) with humanity (Mary). The Holy Spirit descends and rests upon Mary to make her the perfect Wife of Christ forever. Mary conceived contemplating to marry God. The original and redeemed humanity in Mary is linked to her holiness and virginity.
The Assumption of Mary (Koimesis) is considered by the Orthodox as translation (transit and sleep). They conceive of eschatology as glorification. The Coptics celebrate Mary’s death on the 29th of every month, and on 15 August they celebrate the glorification of their bodies. Mary is associated with Christ in all her mysteries, also in her death and glory. The Son is the archetype and cause of our resurrection. Mary, associated with Christ, fell asleep without suffering the corruption of the tomb. If the Son is the Risen Firstborn from the dead, the Mother partakes of her glory and is by her side. She is the Ark of the Lord (S 131) and is the Queen seated to her right (S 44).
Adam and Eve suffered corruption as a result of death, Christ and Mary are alive and uncorrupted because they triumphed over death. Mary died (separation of soul and body) but was resurrected and her body was lived, divinized, transfigured and transformed into a spiritual body. He enjoys glorification in the likeness of his Son, and depends on the resurrection and glorification of Christ.
The certainty of faith in every truth is linked to revelation, Jesus Christ, and the Church. Scripture is interpreted by the Spirit in the Church. Truths that have no support in Scripture (Immaculate, Assumption) must be presented in the light of the ecclesial faith (councils, magisterial continuity, teaching of the Fathers and celebration in the liturgy).
The “Lives of Mary” appear as a literary genre in the 10th century and last until the 19th century. They intend to remember through the story and not dogmatic elucubrations. This type of narrative is not strictly historical in nature but relates to the liturgy and the transmission of faith.
Among the Orthodox there are Marian festivals of biblical origin: the Annunciation, the Presentation or encounter in the temple with Simeon (Hipapante), holy Saturday, Easter Sunday or the Myrophores (the three Women who wear ointment and scents to the tomb). They also have Marian festivals inserted in the liturgical cycle: the fifth Sabbath of Lent (Song of the Akathistos Hymn), the Nativity of Mary, the Presentation of Mary in the temple and the Dormition of Mary.
- Some Marian authors of this period
Orthodox theologians of this period are numerous and almost all are distinguished by their homilies and hymns for liturgical festivals of biblical origin, especially the Annunciation. We find homilies of Gregorio Palamás (cf. PG 132, 928-941; 1048-1060), Nicolás Cabasila, Theophane the Niceno and other authors.
The biblical and liturgical text of the Annunciation indicates Mary’s involvement in the Incarnation and mystery of Christ. It also alludes to a new time. The sixth month of the Gospel account would be the first in the Hebrew calendar, and refers to the creation of the world where the “spring of God” arises. This is the first month of the new creation (6 x 3 + 3, symbol of fullness). In the spring equinox (March 25) God’s presence flourishes among men; is the sign of the “Lamb”, the constellation of Aries, when the sun is in the center (equinox). The name of the Messenger, Gabriel, is also symbolic (7 letters indicating fullness), and God’s “strength or power” becomes present.
The angel’s greeting indicates joy and joy: the good news of the Gospel. The full of Grace is like the new Ark of the Covenant between God and men. The old Paradise was closed, but the new one opens: Mary is in the center of the Mystery. The virgin’s name, Mary, refers to her “lordship” (Domina) and also to her starlight (Stella). The perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is a consequence of her collaboration with God in the mystery of Christ, and only God can illuminate this mystery.
Gregorio Palamás (†1359) considers that Mary entered the Saint of Saints. He sees it as “help” of Christians in continuity with the sub tuum praesidium. She is present in the mystery of the Incarnation where God and man embrace each other, but man is part of creation. All creation is in the process of ascent to God.
Palamás has a sapiencial optics of redemption. God’s project does not fail; sin does not erase God’s original order about creation, for He did all good. God is the Truth, we know It and welcome it. Man is part of creation, son of God to welcome the Creator. That is why it was made in the image of God, to identify with Him. What we already have here today will be fully manifested tomorrow with our deification. Only the Word leads us to partake of the eternal light that comes from the Father. God is among humanity because he is born of a woman: next to Christ is Mary, her mother.
Without Mary there is no cosmos, no creation, no world, no man, no Son of man. She is not the Center, but she is at the center, at the heart of the creatures and as a model of redeemed creation. The center is the Incarnate Word (Christ) that appears at the origin of the divine creation project. Christ is Wisdom and Mary is next door (Throne of Wisdom). It underlines wisdom as a path of salvation (soteriology) following the previous patristic tradition. The story of Creation is broader than the story of salvation. Gregorio Palamás continues his reflection on the same sting of the Byzantine Orthodox tradition of the Eastern parents Gregorio Nacianceno (iv century), Pseudo Dionisio Areopagita (s. v), Maximus the Confessor (s. vi) and Juan Damasceno (s. viii).
Nicolás Cabasila (1320-1390/1396) wrote a liturgical treaty of great importance. He was a lay monk. Without being a bishop or priest, he wrote three very significant Marian homilies about the Nativity, the Annunciation and the Dormition. He knows well the Greek theology of pseudo Dionysus and focuses on the Incarnation the entire creation project of God.
While the Aristotelian scholastic flourished in the West with the Latin writings of Peter Lombardo and Thomas Aquinas, in the East they continue to write in Greek and maintain a platonic search posture, in the line of cappedcios. Ideas, contemplation and spirituality above rational, legal, normative, moralistic and casuistic.
The theology of the “Eastern Middle Ages” is dominated by the Incarnate Word: God made man. The end of man is to become God. Life in Christ has its source in the celebration of the sacraments: baptism and the Eucharist. From inside the believer arises a ray of light because Christ enlightens him from the heart. (Greek icons have internal light). Man acts with the power of the Spirit (synergía) to enjoy divine filiation.
Mary, the Theotokos, is for Cabasila the synthesis of saving history because no one becomes God if the Word does not become flesh in Mary’s bosom. The Church looks at her as a model of what she aspires to be. The story of salvation is included in the history of Creation. The “Word” is taught by God already in creation, and in Christ it becomes human flesh. The Wisdom and Strength of God are from the beginning of the divine “project”. God is an architect who is not wrong about Creation: everything was good. Divine Justice and Holiness are founded on His Wisdom and Mercy.
Theofano Niceno (†1381) is another of the great Orthodox authors of the 14th century. He affirms that man was created for bliss, all thanks to the Incarnation of the Word. The end of man and of the whole creation is the incarnation. It all focuses on the only Lord in the universe. Mary is next to Christ at the apex. The Holy Spirit is given to the creature so that he can see and carry God.
Only by Christ and in the Spirit can god be known. Without the irradiation of the Word you cannot see God. Whoever departs from Christ departs from God, for through Him all things were created. Man’s greatness lies in his freedom without his intelligence. The true Man is Christ, because he is the perfect image of God. Man attains absolute freedom in Paradise: Creation of Love, permanence in Goodness, attainment of Truth and Bliss. Man follows an evolutionary path until he is configured with Christ. The laws of life tell us the way to become Good. God wants the divinization of His Creatures and is given to those who seek it and are worthy of Him. Ω
1 On 6 January 2019 in Istanbul, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, gave to the Metropolitan Patriarch of Kiev, Epiphany, the “volumes” (certificate) which confers full independence on the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, until now dependent on Moscow. Bartholomew gave the signed scroll to the Ukrainian patriarch during the Mass of the Epiphany, which he held next to the Metropolitan of Kiev in Greek and Ukrainian in St. George’s Cathedral, on the banks of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In this way, Ukraine becomes the fifteenth autocephalic church, recognized as such by Constantinople, among today’s Orthodox Christians. Patriarch Bartholomew recalled that it was the Patriarchate of Constantinople that founded the first churches of Kiev and that, although he transferred his administration to Moscow in 1325, he did not ced his canonical jurisdiction to the Russian patriarch, with which the Patriarch of Moscow does not agree. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was also present at the ceremony, happy for the independence of the Kiev Church that favors Ukrainian religious freedom and sovereignty.