I. Autocephalic Orthodox Churches
As a result of the Islamic invasion, Byzantine orthodoxy will fork into two main currents: Greek and Slavic. The Greek diaspora, through Venice and Ravenna, will receive some Catholic influence, but will return to Greek autonomy in 1813 with the patriarchy of Athens. The Slavic churches have been forming since the late 10th century with the missionaries Cyril and Methodius, the first evangelizers, who created the Cyrillic alphabet. In the distant year of 987 Russian Prince Vladimir had chosen Christianity of Byzantium as a religion for his territory. Orthodox churches will differ according to the language and culture of the different peoples and their Slavic, Greek, Balkan, Roman, Persian, Arabic, etc. influence.
After the fall of Byzantium in 1453, Orthodox heritage passed to Kiev and Moscow, but also passed through Venice, Dalmatia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. Moscow’s patriarchy has been the most influential in recent centuries and has grouped other sinnodo patriarchs. However, from 1917 on, Slavic Orthodox suffered a major crisis due to the Bolshevik revolution. Many emigrated and spread their influence throughout Europe and the United States, as a result of this diaspora of the Soviet Union. The Orthodox Centre of St. Sergio in Paris, founded in 1923, is of particular importance to today. From there, Orthodox theology and iconography have spread throughout Europe and America.
The culture of Slavic countries will be formed in the shadow of the Orthodox religion, particularly in Russia and Ukraine. The Gospel, the liturgy and the iconography of Byzantium will have a special influence in Moscow and Kiev. The monastic, according to the model of the Greek monks of Mount Athos, will be shown as a path to martyrdom and follow-up to Christ.
The liturgy will be a respite for the Christians of the East with their different rites. The Gospel will be sung in solemn liturgical celebrations. Mary will be revered as the Wife of the Unspotted Lamb. The Eucharist will be an experience of spiritual life emphasizing the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) during its celebration. Iconography will be a way of doing theology and prayer.
The images are revered to enter into communion with the saints through contemplation. Whoever knows something about God is because he contemplates it, and whoever can contemplate it becomes theologian, praying, mystical, iconographer. The Gospel is the norm for the christian journey, the liturgy is the food of life, icons are theology. Among the oriental icons of the Greek, Slavic, Coptic, Syrian tradition are those representing the Mother of God (Theotokos). A characteristic of Eastern orthodoxy in recent centuries has been the dissemination of icons, along with the mystical theology that underpins them.
The form of government of these Orthodox churches is governed by patriarchs, according to the history and tradition of each place. Although there is some common relationship between the various Eastern traditions, each patriarchy is autonomous (autocephalic), making it difficult to perform pan-Orthodox synods. Rites and celebrations are also peculiar, depending on the culture and language of patriarchy. There are currently fifteen patriarchs. The main ones are: Constantinople, Athens, Moscow, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus…
II. Some modern authors of Russian orthodoxy
We could point out that there is a certain theological vacuum in orthodoxy from the sixteenth century onwards. Eastern theological reflection does not have the richness and variety that Christians of the West possess. However, we recognize the philosophical and theological richness of some 20th-century Russian Orthodox authors, such as Solovyov, Bulgakov, Evdokimov, Berdyaiev, Florensky, Dostoyevsky, Caadaev, Loskij. From them we will only see the theological and Marian reflection of the first three.
These authors were able to establish a fruitful relationship between philosophy and the Word of God, between reason and faith, which has been of great fecamity and cause for hope for today’s man.1 They seek to establish a dialogue between philosophy and theology to find the truth of their experience as believers. They try to present a theology of beauty (via pulchritudinis) and biblical wisdom (sophiologia). His reflection is part of Scripture, icons, and the fathers of the Church. His theology is more apathetic (of silent contemplation) than rational; their reflection seeks to lead more to mystique and contemplation than to develop treaties or defend dogmas.
The theologians we will present below keep some constants in the way we see Mary. They regard her in the light of the mystery of the incarnation as the wife of the Lamb and participant in the holiness of the Paraclito. They see redemption as a new Creation: Christ is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve. Christ is the divine Wisdom and visible image of the invisible God. Mary is at the heart of Christ’s relationship, with the Spirit and with the Church. Reveal the mystery of grace and holiness. In their Marian reflection, icons, regarded as a synthesis of theology and spirituality, take on special importance. In fact, all icons refer to the mystery of Christ and have an inspiring biblical text.
Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyev (1853–1900) was born in Moscow and died in the same city. He was an important Russian philosopher, theologian, poet and literary critic. His paternal grandfather was an Orthodox priest and professor of religion; his father, Sergey Solovyev (1820–1897) was professor of history at Moscow University, author of the famous History of Russia of the oldest era in twenty-nine volumes. The mother, Poliksena, came from a Ukrainian family. Vladimir was the fourth child of the twelve his parents had. The first years of this thinker, as well as his youth, took place in Moscow and on the family estate, near the capital. At the age of nine he had the first vision of a woman wrapped in a blue and gold mantle that she would later recognize as divine wisdom (Sancta Sophia).
His early philosophical readings include Plato and Spinoza, Kant, Fischer, Hegel, Feuerbach and Eduard von Hartmann. Progressively, during these years there is a religious evolution that will bring it back to Christianity, although very initially mixed with esoteric speculation.
In 1873 he began working on his master thesis “The Crisis of Western Philosophy. Against the Positivists,” which he defended in St. Petersburg and was published in 1874. During the same academic year he attended the lessons of the Ecclesiastical Academy, where he began in the knowledge of patristics and orthodox theology in general, in neoplatonism and in the philosophy of Schelling. With the aforementioned master thesis he obtains the support of conservative Slavic circles and the rejection of Western liberal circles, and enters as a professor at the University of Moscow. At this time also begins his poetic production that will last until his death.
In a second intellectual period he became theophile (1873–1882) and made a speculative elaboration of the idea of the integral unity of all things. The basic themes of this integration are total unity in Theica Sofia (Wisdom) (union of the divine and human in the cosmos).
He then moves on to the theocratic period (1883–1889) and seeks the unification of all things in divine humanity that cannot be left in a mere idea, but must be performed specifically in history, in the flesh of humanity’s social and political relations. The themes of the previous stage do not lose their validity, but extend them to social practice.
In the liturgical period (1889-1899) he considered that the reality of worldly divisions, tragically visible still and above all in the division of the Churches, does not seem to have an immediate solution. This leads Solovyev to focus mainly on the partial and particular realizations of divine-human unity which, in his opinion, take place in love and art (conceived theurgically).
Finally, in the apocalyptic period (1899-1900), the imperative of unitary integration and its awareness of the impossibility of its historical realization, makes Soloviov increasingly convinced of the eschatological and transhistoric character that has for Christianity the fullness, as well as the radical combat that the Church must endure to that end in this world against the spirit of evil.
Solovyev influenced the symbolists and idealists of the last Soviet era, in particular Aleksandr Blok and Andrei Bely. It also inspired the religious philosophy of Berdiayev, Bulgakov, Florenski and Loski. In addition, his book The Sense of Love is one of the philosophical sources of the work of the writer Leon Tolstoy La sonata a Kreutzer (1889). Also, in the novel Doctor Zhivago (1957), Boris Pasternak describes the young friends Yuri Zhivago, Misha Gordón and Tonia Gromeko as “a triple alliance nourished by the reading and re-reading of The Sense of Love and The Sonata to Kreutzer”. It can also be argued that Solovyev inspired Fyodor Dostoyevsky to create Alyosha’s character in his novel The Karamazov Brothers.
His main poetic works are: Three Quotations (1898), Verses (1891-1900), White Azucena (1893). Among his philosophical works are: Crisis of Western Philosophy (1874), Criticism of Abstract Principles (1877-1880) (doctoral thesis), Cycle of lectures on the humanity of God (1878-1881).
His mariology is inspired by the fathers of the Church. He regards Creation as the basis of everything, but sees the center of the universe in the incarnation of the Word, where Mary’s presence is. He regards man as a microcose within creation by divine Wisdom. Mary is the heart of the Church for her holiness. Christ is the Head, Mary is the heart and the Church is the Body of the Church. The Love of the Wife (Mary and the Church) would be in relation to Wisdom (Christ).
Sergey Nikolayevich Bulgakov (1871–1944) was born in Livny, Russia, on July 28, 1871, and died in Paris, France, on July 12, 1944. He was a Russian theologian, philosopher and economist, but in 1922 he was expelled from his homeland, for his opposition to communism, on the so-called philosophical ship along with Nikolai Berdiáyev and other intellectuals.
Bulgakov developed his theology on sophytology. The sofia is that intermediate reality between God and the creature; the presence of the divine in creation. The essence of the Church is to be the point of union between the divine Sofia and the created Sofia. The Church is also Sofia as a synergism that unicisms heaven and earth. Its visibility is sacramental. The celebrations of the sacraments historically and misterically justify the existence of the hierarchy. The Holy Spirit encourages the whole Church (clergy and laity); only in his symphony does he hear his voice and give teachings and directives; there are no special organs or safe signs. To look for them would be to test an “ecclesiastical fetishism”. Christ is the source of life and love. The Lamb (Christ) gives life out of love (Revelation); Heavenly Jerusalem (Church) is the unity of love between the Husband and the Wife (Revelation 12 and 19; Singing from the Songs).
Mary is immersed in the Holy Spirit and can communicate her life to us; she’s pneumatophores. The Holy Spirit who descends in the annunciation is the same as that which appears in the epiphany, in the baptism of Jesus, and in the Upper Room. The Same Spirit rests upon the Mother, on the Son, and on the disciples. Among his Marian works it is worth highlighting: El Paráclito. The burning bush: veneration in the orthodoxy of the Mother of God.
Paul Evdokimov (1901–1970) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is educated in the family religious environment full of Christian values in his hometown, until he emigrated with his family, for political reasons, in the wake of the crisis that occurred with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. His family fled to Istanbul and then to Paris. He graduated from the Military School and studied theology at the Kiev Higher School of Theology, although he finished his studies at the St. Sergio Theology Institute in Paris (1928). In this Institute he forged as one of the most outstanding Orthodox intellectuals of the twentieth century, and was a disciple of Sergei Bulgakov.
After World War II he was a professor at the Instituto San Sergio, where he taught the subjects of Patristics and Systematic Theology. His dedication to studies also included philosophy and literature. In 1942 he received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Aix-en-Provence (France). In 1954 he was appointed professor of Moral Theology at the Russian-Orthodox Institute of St. Sergio, in Paris, and the Institute itself awarded him a doctorate in Theology (1962). His most important works are: Dostoyevsky and the Problem of Evil (1942); Marriage, Sacrament of Love (1944); Orthodoxy (1959); Gogol and Dostoyevsky on the Descent into Hell (1961); The Sacrament of Love (1962); The Prayer of the Church (1966), The Woman and The Salvation of the World (1970).
Evdokimov’s theology is born from the experience of faith nurtured in the Orthodox Church. It interprets eastern tradition in the light of the west, creating a necessary bridge between the two cultures. His thought comes from his experience. Try to unite reflection and contemplation. In it we find the monk and the ascetic, the poet and the philosopher, the writer and the theologian.
With his poetic language he manifests the presence of God-Love revealed in Jesus Christ. This metaphorical style allows him to express his theological thinking that gravitates on three axes: humanism, asceticism and archetype. We find in the Russian thinker a living Christian humanism, where he turns his theology into a search for truth about God and man who ends up in the human possibility of participating in the glory of God. Through the experience of faith we can move from human misery to the full happiness of truth.
Asceticism is understood as the path of divine knowledge through the exercise of the human will. Thanks to asatic life, the Christian becomes a monk in the modern world. The asctic Christian responds vividly to the atheism of our time. The human being finds himself, with the asceticism of his faculties. In this way he is able to fight against the evil that surrounds him, in deep mixture with good.
The archetype of Christian life is undoubtedly Christ. Human nature, worthy by the presence of Christ, makes human beings possess Christ as the true and only archetype of their lives. In the face of mechanistic and materialistic philosophies, which atomize and destroy the unity of the human being, he is convinced that today’s man must live before the archetype of Christ. Without it, life is impersonal, empty and arid, repeating meaningless events.
We can classify Evdokimov as the Orthodox personalist par excellence of the twentieth century. His concern for the human person is evident in his writings reflecting eastern tradition and psychological science data. He considers that man is transcendent that he should not isolate himself from religion in order to decide his destiny. He conveys in his writings the hope of the divine victory of Christ’s Resurrection. As dostoyevsky suggests in The Karamazov Brothers: “Hell and paradise are not compensation, punishment or reward, but qualifications of the life with which man himself creates and prepares his destiny.”
His Marian doctrine goes back to Gregorio Palamas. She sees Mary as the woman all holy, totally filled with the Holy Spirit. She is the bearer of the Holy Spirit who has modeled within her the Archetype of humanity (Christ), because by her incarnation man attains fullness and can attain the holiness that comes from the Spirit.
Conclusions on the eastern Marian and patristic tradition
In short, we can point out the following theological and Marian characteristics typical of the Eastern tradition in the Orthodox Churches.
1. The deification of man: God loves the human being incarnate in the image of the Word. This nature, from freedom, offers God a Virgin Mother. In Mary, human nature has come to the original Wisdom of God. Mary welcomes the Word in the mystery of the incarnation. The Word of God creates the cosmos and man, but Mary’s free Yes makes it possible for the Word to be made flesh.
2. The Incarnate Word is an archetype of the human being. Christ is the Son of God and the true Man. The incarnation is the center of history: Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Human fullness becomes his image (alter Christi). Mary, Mother of Jesus, is Theotokos.
3. Creation is a mandatory reference point. In Eastern theology, incarnation and redemption are based on creation. Mary is the New Eve because she allowed the perfect union of God and man. Humanity achieves in it the most genuine essence and the most perfect freedom. In eastern optics, Creation and incarnation are the theological axes of the mystery of Christ. For her part, Mary establishes with her fiat in the Annunciation a close relationship with the fiat of God in Creation. In the beginning God made the world and man; in the new Creation, by the “become” of Mary, God became flesh and man is divinized.
4. Spirituality of configuration with Christ by the Spirit who dwells in us. The important thing for the Christian is life in Christ for conversion, for the sacraments and for charity. Christ is God’s strength in Creation and in the Incarnation. Christ is the sole mediator of God’s grace and total gift to men. Mary is with him as a sign of the Church and of salvation.
5. Mary’s relationship with the Holy Trinity. The Father begets the Son and Mary conceived in his bosom the Incarnate Word, according to humanity. Mary conceives by faith; the Father begets for love and mercy. In her relationship with the Son, Mary is the Mother and is fully attached to him in body, mind, will and spirit. For this reason, the Virgin-Mother is oriented in everything according to divine will. Mary relates to the Holy Spirit because they are both a source of life. Mary is the temple, the ark, and the living sanctuary of the Spirit.
6. Mary’s relationship with the Church and humanity. Mary is our spiritual Mother for God’s gift and for her union with Christ and with the Spirit. Mary is the image of the Church because they both begat Christ in us through baptism, the sacraments and theological virtues.
7. Osology as a way to attain beauty and truth. Sophytology seeks to penetrate the mysteries of God from the contemplation of life and creatures from the heart. The Spirit is present in the Creation and in the Incarnation and is the source of grace and holiness. Mary, like the Mother of God, is the full realization of the Spirit, the image of the Church, the source for attaining truth, beauty and wisdom.
8. The name Theotokos. Divine motherhood is intimately related to the mystery of the incarnation. Mary, the whole saint, is by the cross as a figure of wife and mother, as a sign of discipleship within the Church. The Virgin of the sign (Isaiah) refers us to divine motherhood; Our Prayer always has the Son in his heart.
9. Perpetual virginity is represented in the oriental icons by the three stars on Mary’s forehead and shoulders. It is a sign of Mary’s faithfulness and her total dedication to God, an uncorrupted woman and mother, always a virgin, full of the Holy Spirit. She, hearing the Word, conceives the Son; embracing virginity, it is inhabited by the Spirit and remains in his presence.
10. Iconography and contemplation as a path of spirituality. Oriental theology is always accompanied by liturgy, sacred Scripture and icons. This spiritual richness of the East has also spread in the Christian communities of the West and is a path to ecumenical dialogue, reflection and contemplation.
With this theme we conclude the presentation of the Orthodox Marian tradition. As Pope John Paul II said, the Church breathes with two lungs: East and West. In relation to the Marian tradition we have seen the spiritual richness and veneration of the Orthodox towards Mary. We have made the journey of the Eastern parents until the ninth century, and we have also seen some authors of the Eastern Marian tradition who wrote in the Middle Ages and in modernity. In total, there have been eleven articles of strict synthesis on Eastern Marian theology. We will continue the presentation of Western authors (parents and theologians) representative of theology and veneration to Mary in the Church of the West.
I thank the readers who encourage me to continue writing about Mary. This Marian section of the magazine Palabra Nueva indicates that the Blessed Virgin Mary is important in the pastoral care of our archdiocese. For more than ten years, some eighty Marian articles have appeared from various perspectives: biblical, patristic, magisterial, spiritual, pastoral. I hope to continue writing, which for me is a privilege and a devotional gesture towards the Mother of God. Ω
1 Cf. John Paul II: Fides et ratio, 74.