Take My Yoke Upon You (Mat 11:28-30)

"The Flower Carrier" (1935) by Diego Rivera.

“The Flower Carrier” (1935) by Diego Rivera.

Take My Yoke Upon You (Mat 11:28-30)

Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and dwell in the house of learning. Wherefore are ye slow, and what say ye to these things, seeing your souls are very thirsty? I opened my mouth, and said, Buy her for yourselves without money. Put your neck under the yoke, and let your soul receive instruction: she is hard at hand to find. (Sirach 51:23-26)

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30)

The scholar Henry Chadwick states: “Among Greek-speaking Christians …The wisdom of Ben Sira became so popular that in the west it acquired the title ‘Ecclesiasticus’, and a famous saying of Jesus in Matt 11:28 directly quotes from Sirach 51:27.” Chadwick is speaking of the following verse: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In our day we speak of blue collar and white collar workers. This tends to mean those who work with their hands, and those who work at their desks. In general, white collar work requires a greater degree of education than does blue collar work. This distinction was even more pronounced in Jesus’ day, when literacy was rare; when most people were unlearned, and therefore laborers.

The two passages are not direct quotations; Jesus is restating the verse from Sirach. This is parallelism, a literary technique used in Hebrew poetry, and would have been familiar to Jesus’ audience. The call to the unlearned to dwell in the house of learning is a call for them to rest from their labors. But the context of Sirach is even more interesting. Chapter 51 is a prayer, and beginning at verse 13 Jesus ben Sirach begins to describe his search for wisdom. Thus when Jesus is quoting from Sirach, he is identifying Himself as Wisdom incarnate.

This connection between Jesus and Wisdom becomes even clearer when we discover Jesus’ reference to the yoke comes from Sirach injunction to “Put your neck under the yoke.” In Sirach, this is the yoke of Wisdom; in Matthew, the yoke of Wisdom belongs to Jesus. It is His yoke, it is His burden. He, Jesus, is Wisdom personified, and only in Him do we find rest for our souls.

The Harrowing of Hell

In Harrowing of Hades, fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315, raising Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon, as it always is in the East.

The Harrowing of Hell. This representation of Christ’s descent into Hell shows Him breaking down the gates of hell and restoring Adam and Eve to Paradise.

The Harrowing of Hell

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.(1 Pet 3:18-22)

For Protestants, this is a difficult and most troubling passage, one whose meaning is unclear, and therefore subject to all sorts of interpretations. What does the phrase “spirits in prison” mean? Why did Jesus preach to them, and what was the content of His sermon?[i] When I was in High School, I remember a sermon on this passage in which it was claimed that the “spirits in prison” were the fallen angels, and Jesus message was: “I have beaten you.” While it made for a powerful sermon, this interpretation cannot be supported by the text — although in the absence of other evidence, it is certainly no worse than any of the other interpretations I heard.

And yet, none of the Protestant interpretations of this passage relate to the interpretation given by the early church, which was derived from the book of Tobit and various Old Testament passages, as illumined by the life of Christ. In the book of Tobit we read his prayer of thanksgiving, in which he makes reference to what most Christians call the Harrowing of Hell; the descent of Christ into Hell, where he led captivity captive — that is, from whence he delivered the Old Testament saints from their bondage of sin, death, and the devil.

Then Tobit wrote a prayer of rejoicing, and said, Blessed be God that liveth for ever, and blessed be his kingdom. For he doth scourge, and hath mercy: he leadeth down to hell [Hades], and bringeth up again: neither is there any that can avoid his hand (Tobit 13:1-2).

It is important to note that the verses above are from the King James Version, which tends to conflate the terms for Hell and Hades, translating them both as Hell. However, the word used here is not the Greek word for Hell, but the word for Hades [άδην], the place for disembodied spirits; in the Old Testament, this equates to the Hebrew word Sheol [שׁאול], being the grave, the abode of the dead. While in the New Testament Hades is reserved for the wicked awaiting judgment, in the Old Testament (prior to Christ’s Descent into Hades), Hades/Sheol held both the righteous and the damned.

One of the most important Old Testament passages concerning Christ’s descent into Hades is found in Psalms 24. This passage comes in two parts; the first declares that all of creation is the LORD’S, and states that only the pure in heart will stand in the holy place of God.

The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?

He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah. (Ps 24:1-6)

After this passage comes the word Selah, which is a musical and liturgical term, giving one time to pause and reflect upon what has come before. Reflecting on the fact that only the pure in heart will see God (Mt 5:8), we must ask who, then, is pure? Who is without sin? (Joh 8:7) The answer, of course is Jesus, who was tempted like us, yet without sin (Heb 4:15); who was offered for and on behalf of our sins, and was raised again without sin (Heb 9:28). In the remainder of Psalm 24 we see Christ, the King of glory, as being the one able to conquer the hold death had on humanity, and who has opened for us the gates of paradise.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah. (Ps 24:7-10)

These last verses from Psalm 24 are part of the Paschal liturgy of the Eastern Church. After reciting (and acting out) this passage, the doors of the church are flung open and the people enter, after which is sung the Easter troparion: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.” This refrain, dating as early as the 2nd century, contains the theological meaning of what is termed the Harrowing of Hell. Death could not hold Him. In defeating death, Christ led captivity captive (Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8), meaning He led the souls of the departed righteous out of their resting place, where they are now kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (1 Pet 1:5).

We should note that this doctrine is not some medieval invention of the Roman Catholic Church, but is in fact the universal witness of the Church into the apostolic age. We know this from a variety of sources; the New Testament itself, the apocryphal writings of the New Testament period, Christian poetry, and fathers of the early church.

New Testament sources include Jesus’ discussion of His impending three-day burial: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”(Matt 12:40); Christian tradition holds this to be a foretelling of Christ’s descent into Hell.[ii] Other incidental passages include Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-32); Paul’s sermon in the synagogue of Antioch (Acts 13:34-37); and “St Paul’s words that speak of how Christ ‘descended into the lower parts of the earth’ [Eph 4:9] and of his victory over death and hell.'[1 Cor 15:54-57; Rom 10:7; Col 2:14-15]”[iii] Perhaps the most important passage, which became a prototype for other writings of the post-apostolic period, is the passage from 1 Peter which opens this discourse.

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev notes the Harrowing of Hell is much more prominent in the Christian Apocalypses than in the canonical texts. Among these texts, which were “indirectly” used by the early church are the Christiain interpolations into the Ascension of Isaiah and The Testament of Asher, along with the “Christian adaptation” of The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Other texts include The Gospel of Peter, The Epistle of the Apostles, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Sybilline Oracles, The Teachings of Silvanus, The Gospel of Bartholomew, and The Gospel of Nicodemus. This last book “exerted decisive influence on the formation of church doctrine on the subject.”[iv]

Besides the previously mentioned Easter troparion, which is dated to at least as early as the 2nd century, we should mention the poem “On Pascha” by St Melito of Sardis, and dated to the middle of the 2nd Century, a portion of which is quoted below.

66. When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death.

68. This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever.

70. This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.

71. This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, raising up mankind below. [v]

Instead of placing the saving work of Christ into different categories and treating each atomistically (as is done in western theology), St Melito of Sardis connects it all into a seamless narrative, flowing from the pre-existence of the Son of God, His clothing of himself of the flesh of the Virgin Mary, His life, death, burial, and His raising of mankind from the grave by virtue of His own resurrection. This same method is repeated elsewhere in his “On Pascha”, to similar effect.

Another interesting bit of poetry comes to us by way of the Odes of Solomon, a work most scholars believe first appeared in Syria in the mid-second century. About their origin, Rutherford Hayes Platt states: “one of the most plausible explanations is that they are songs of newly baptized Christians of the First Century.”[vi] With this in mind, it is interesting to note that these Odes contain significant references to and descriptions of Christ’s descent into Hades.[vii] Ode 42 is particularly interesting, in that it describes both the “spirits in prison”, and the content of Christ’s preaching.

ODE 42.

The Odes of Solomon, the Son of David, are ended with the following exquisite verses.

1 I stretched out my hands and approached my Lord:

2 For the stretching of my hands is His sign:

3 My expansion is the outspread tree which was set up on the way of the Righteous One.

4 And I became of no account to those who did not take hold of me; andI shall be with those who love me.

5 All my persecutors are dead; and they sought after me who hoped in me, because I was alive:

6 And I rose up and am with them; and I will speak by their mouths.

7 For they have despised those who persecuted them;

8 And I lifted up over them the yoke of my love;

9 Like the arm of the bridegroom over the bride, So was my yoke over those that know me: And as the couch that is spread in the house of the bridegroom and bride,

12 So is my love over those that believe in me.

13 And I was not rejected though I was reckoned to be so.

14 I did not perish, though they devised it against me.

15 Sheol saw me and was made miserable: Death cast me up, and many along with me.

17 I had gall and bitterness, and I went down with him to the utmost of his depth:

18 And the feet and the head he let go, for they were not able to endure my face:

19 And I made a congregation of living men amongst his dead men, and I spake with them by living lips:

20 Because my word shall not be void:

21 And those who had died ran towards me: and they cried and said, Son of God, have pity on us, and do with us according to thy kindness,

22 And bring us out from the bonds of darkness: and open to us the door by which we shall come out to thee.

23 For we see that our death has not touched thee.

24 Let us also be redeemed with thee: for thou art our Redeemer.

25 And I heard their voice; and my name I sealed upon their heads:

26 For they are free men and they are mine. Hallelujah.

This last phrase sums up the soteriological [salvific] theology contained within the description of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell. We were all in bondage to sin, death, and the devil; Christ has broken our chains, destroyed the gates of hell, and declares to all: “They are free men and they are mine. Hallelujah.”

An interesting patristic passage comes to us by way of Eusebius, in “The Story Concerning the King of Edessa.” King Agbar of Edessa[viii] was ill with some form of wasting disease. Hearing of Jesus, the King wrote and besought Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus sent King Agbar a letter saying one of his disciples would come and heal his sicknesses and bring salvation to his people. This was accomplished after the resurrection of Christ when Thomas sent Thaddeus (one of the seventy) to Edessa. Thomas not only healed King Agbar and a great many others, but preached the following Gospel to them, which included a description of Christ’s descent into Hades:

Because I have been sent to preach the word of God, assemble me tomorrow all the people of thy city, and I will preach before them, and sow amongst them the word of life; and will tell them about the coming of Christ, how it took place; and about His mission, for what purpose he was sent by His Father; and about His power and His deeds, and about the mysteries which He spake in the world, and by what power He wrought these things, and about His new preaching, and about His abasement and His humiliation, and how He humbled and emptied and abased Himself, and was crucified, and descended to Hades, and broke through the enclosure which had never been broken through before, and raised up the dead, and descended alone, and ascended with a great multitude to His Father.[ix]

The fact that the Harrowing of Hell featured prominently in the Apocryphal texts, Christian poetry, and patristics testifies to the early origins of this Christian doctrine. And the fact that this doctrine is supported from the Old Testament, including both canonical and so-called Apocryphal texts, suggests the loss of something vital to the Gospel when the Apocrypha were separated from the rest of the Old Testament.



[i] We won’t even discuss the problematic phrase: “even baptism doth also now save us”.

[ii] (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev 2009, 17)

[iii] (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev 2009, 19)

[iv] (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev 2009, 20-29)

[v] (St Melito of Sardis 1989, 20-23; 32-34)

[vi] (Platt 2007, 205)

[vii] See Odes 17, 22, 24, and 42.

[viii] Edessa was the capital city of Osreone, which was part of the Syriac empire. The country of Osreone is roughly located in the border area of Turkey and Syria; the city of Edessa is located in modern-day Turkey, and known as Şanlıurfa (or colloquially as Urfa).

[ix] (Schaff, ANF08. The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementia, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Age 2005, 1098)


Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev. Christ the Conqueror of Hell. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009.

Platt, Rutherford H. The Forgotten Books of Eden. Sioux Falls: NuVision Publications, LLC, 2007.

Schaff, Philip. ANF08. The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementia, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Age. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005.

St Melito of Sardis. “On Pascha.” Edited by Jr. James T. Dennison. KERUX: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching (Kerux, Inc.) 4, no. 1 (1989): 5-35.


St. John of Krondstadt on the connection between the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation

Jesus Christ, Emmanuel

Jesus Christ, Emmanuel

In order that the Lord may unite Himself with anybody, it is necessary that that man should be perfectly free from the impurity of sin and be adorned with virtues, or that he should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who took upon Himself the sins of the whole world; that he should acknowledge his sins, should sincerely condemn them, considering them foolish, and that he should ask with all his heart to be forgiven them, firmly intending not to sin again in future. It was in this manner that all the saints were united with the Lord and became holy.

Union with God is achieved either through a life of virtue or a life of repentance. The lives of the saints demonstrate that these are one and the same thing.  As St. Sisoe of the Desert said on his deathbed, (to the astonishment of his fellow monks): “I have not yet begun to repent.” Given this, what are we to make of the Virgin Mary? In what way was she worthy to become the Mother of God the Word, and is such a life possible for us?

How holy therefore must be our Lady, the Mother of God, with Whom God the Word Himself, the Light everlasting, was most truly united: ” the true light, Which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world,” [647] whom “the Holy Ghost came upon,” and whom “the power of the Most High overshadowed”! [648] How holy and most holy must be our Lady, the Mother of the Lord, Who became the temple of God, not made with hands, and was entirely penetrated, in all Her thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds, by the Holy Ghost, and from Whose blood the Creator Himself made flesh for Himself? Truly She is most holy, firm, steadfast, immovable, unchangeable throughout all eternity in Her most high, divine holiness, for the all-perfect God, Who humanly became Her Son, made Her all-perfect by reason of Her most great humility, Her love of purity and the source of purity, God; Her entire renunciation of the world, and Her attachment with all Her thoughts to the heavenly kingdom, and especially by reason of the fact that She became His Mother, carried Him in Her womb, and afterwards in Her most-pure arms, nourished with Her most-pure milk, Him Who feeds all creatures, cared for Him, caressed Him, suffered and sorrowed for Him, shed tears for Him, lived Her whole life for Him, for Him alone was wholly absorbed in His Spirit and was one heart, one soul with Him, one holiness with Him! O highest unity of love and holiness of the most-pure Virgin Mary and Her Divine Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! Wonderful, too, are God’s saints by their entire love for the Lord, by the streams of blood and sweat they shed out of love for the Lord.

The Virgin Mary is one of us. She was not conceived immaculately, as the Latins falsely claim, for then Our Lord would not have been fully human either. In the words of Irenaeus of Lyons” “For that which He [i.e. Christ] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.” If Mary was unique amongst humanity, then Jesus Christ partook of that uniqueness — in which case the efficacy of Christ’s saving work is called into question.

The Virgin Mary has been glorified in and by means of her humility. Of all of humanity, she was the first to “see Him as He is”. Therefore, when we honor the Virgin Mary, we honor the One who built for Himself a body of her flesh and blood, and became one of us. We honor the Virgin Mary for her renunciation of the world, and her total focus on her Son, Jesus Christ. The totality of focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, as shown in the life of the Virgin Mary, and indeed of all the saints, is not simply a curiosity, but a matter of life and death. Their example shows us the way to life everlasting. Thanks be to God.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch; St John of Kronstadt (2010-05-26). My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God (Kindle Locations 4453-4468).  . Kindle Edition.

St. John of Krondstadt on the Mother of God.

St. John of Krondstadt

St. John of Krondstadt

The Mother of God is one flesh and blood, and one spirit with the Saviour, as His Mother. So infinitely great was Her merit by the grace of God that she became the Mother of God Himself, giving Him most pure and most sacred flesh, nourishing Him with Her milk, carrying Him in Her arms, clothing Him, caring in every way for Him in His infancy, kissing Him over and over again, and caressing Him. O Lord, who can describe the greatness of the God-bearing Virgin? ” Every tongue is in doubt how to worthily praise Thee, even the angelic mind itself wonders how to hymn Thee, Mother of God…..” [623] We must call upon Her with one thought and simple impulse of the heart….. She is one with God, like the Saints.

Know and remember, that the matter of your salvation is always near to the heart of Our Lady, the Mother of God, for it was for this that the Son of God, by the favour of the Father, and the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, chose Her out of all generations and was incarnate of Her in order to save the human race from sin, the curse and the eternal death, or everlasting torments. As the matter of our salvation is near to the Saviour, so likewise it is near to Her. Turn to Her with full faith, trust, and love.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch; St John of Kronstadt (2010-05-26). My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God (Kindle Locations 4326-4334). . Kindle Edition.

Ave Maria

Ave Maria, Benedictine Chant, musical notation

Ave Maria, Benedictine Chant

The Ave Maria, or Hail Mary, is a prayer used (primarily) in the Roman Catholic tradition, although some Anglicans, Lutherans, and other Protestant groups use the prayer as well. The Eastern churches use a different form of this prayer.

Hail Mary

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

The first half of the prayer uses texts straight from scripture. The second half becomes more problematic for Protestants, as the concept of asking the saints for their intercessory prayers is foreign to them. But, so they may not lose access to the beautiful Ave Maria music, some Protestants have come up with an alternate version of the text befitting their theology.

Hail Redeemer


Ave redemptor, Domine Jesus:
Cuius ob opus
Superatur mors, enim salvatio
Nunc inundavit super universam terram.

Sancte redemptor, reputata
Fides est nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc et in morte, ad iustitiam.

English Translation

Hail the Redeemer, Lord Jesus,
By whose work
Death is defeated, for salvation
Has now overflowed upon all of the world.

Holy redeemer, our faith
Is reckoned to us sinners,
Now and in death, as righteousness.

Of the numberless settings of the Ave Maria, I prefer the Schubert version. It is perhaps the most well known, and instantly recognizable.

Ave Maria, Schubert, Latin text

Ave Maria Gratia plena
Maria Gratia plena
Maria Gratia plena
Ave, ave dominus
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus
Et benedictus fructus ventris
Ventris tui Jesus
Ave Maria
Ave Maria Mater dei
Ora pro nobis pecatoribus
Ora, ora pro nobis
Ora ora pro nobis pecatoribus
Nunc et in hora mortis
In hora mortis nostrae
In hora mortis, mortis nostrae
In hora mortis nostrae
Ave Maria

Mariology as a Defense Against Heresy

 The following text is from my book “Why Mary Matters”.


Definition of Chalcedon, opposed by Nestorianism, Docetism, Arianism, and Monophysitism

Definition of Chalcedon

The earliest Gnostic heresy was Docetism, which taught that Jesus had only appeared to be a man, but did not take on a real human body. The first mention of Mary by a father of the Church appears in the works of Ignatius of Antioch, and is a defense of the full humanity of Christ by means of His birth of the Virgin Mary. In Chapter VII or his Epistle to the Ephesians, titled “Beware of False Teachers”, Ignatius provides the following formulation of the Christ, being both true God and true man.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom ye must flee as ye would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom ye must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured. There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord. (P. Schaff, ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus 1884, 86)

From there we begin to see references to the Virgin Mary pop up in early Gnostic writings. These writings provide us with evidence of what the Church was trying to avoid — the syncretic identification of the Mother Goddess with the Virgin Mary. Hilda Graef mentions two works — the Ascension of Isaiah and Odes to Solomon — both of which describe the birth of Jesus as something other than a true birth. In fact, these are the earliest literary sources (if perhaps not the theological sources) for the doctrine that Mary maintained her virginity in partu, in the birth, and that this was something other than an ordinary vaginal delivery. (Graef 2009, 27-28)

I note in passing the relative impossibility of keeping secrets. The “disciplina arcani: the secret, inner life of the Church” was bound to slip out. Witness for example the description of Christianity by Pliny the Younger in his letter to the Emperor Trajan where he seeks council on how to deal with Christians (Epistulae X.96). This letter, written early in the second century, provides the earliest literary description of the Eucharist, something that was hidden from the catechumenate, and which the Church forbade discussion of to those outside the Church. Even today we pray (in the pre-Communion prayer of St. John Chrysostom): “Of thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of thy Mystery to thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess thee: Remember me, O Lord, in thy Kingdom.”

Having discussed the existence of the Virgin Mary as part of the secret, inner life of the Church, we must also state that the veneration of the Blessed Virgin is indeed to be found in Sacred Scripture.  We will follow the example of Archimandrite[i] Lev Gillett in using only the Gospels and the book of Acts for this; the more symbolic witness of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation cannot be understood without a proper evaluation of the more straightforward evidence. (Gillett 1949, 76) Lev Gillett writes:

The Gospel itself ascribes to Mary a privileged place among the creatures. The angel Gabriel said to her: ‘Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee’ (Luke i:28). The place occupied by Mary in the divine scheme of our salvation is not only privileged, but unique. Therefore, Elisabeth said to Mary: ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb’ (Luke i. 42). The Gospel observes that Elisabeth, when she saluted Mary in this manner, was ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ (Luke i. 41). Every ‘evangelical’ (in the Protestant sense) Christian will acknowledge as true and inspired these words of the angel Gabriel and Elisabeth. The same words form the greatest part of the text of the Latin Ave Maria, which many ‘evangelical’ Christians mistrust, and the whole text of the corresponding Byzantine prayer. Could ‘evangelicals’ object to our addressing the glorified Virgin Mary in the same words with which she, on earth, was greeted by an angel and by a woman filled with the Holy Ghost? Could they object to our repeating such words, as recorded in the Gospel? If they did, would they still be ‘evangelical’? (Gillett 1949, 76)

A standard evangelical argument against the veneration of Mary is that Jesus himself did not honor her. The argument is that when a woman tried to honor Mary for having given birth, Jesus instead rejected her. This argument is faulty, as Lev Gillet explains.

Jesus himself explained in what is the blessing of God which rests on Mary. When a certain woman out of the multitude lifted up her voice and said to our Lord: ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked’, he answered: ‘Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it’ (Luke xi. 27-38). These words are part of the lesson from the Gospel which the Orthodox Church reads at the liturgy on every feast of the Virgin; this shows that the Orthodox Church considers them as the most perfect expression of her own mind concerning Mary’s holiness. The words of Jesus must certainly not be interpreted as a disavowal of the praising of his mother by the woman or as an underestimation of Mary’s excellence; but they emphasize the real point and show where lies the merit of Mary. (Gillett 1949, 77)

St. Nikolai Velimirovich, in his Prayer number XXII, explores this idea. “O my Majestic Lord! You dance on Your Mother’s lap, quickened by the All-Holy Spirit … You fill the whole soul of Your Mother, all Her virgin breast; and there is nothing in Your Mother’s soul except You. You are Her radiance and Her voice, truly Her eye and Her song.” (Velimirovich 2010, 40) Herein we see the connection between the witness of the Sacred Scriptures and that of the inner life of the Church. The meaning of Jesus’ words regarding His mother are unclear, and could be interpreted any number of ways. Historically, Christianity has interpreted these words of Christ as expressing the true measure of Mary’s greatness, and the reason why she is to be specially honored today. This is in line with the Lukan account of how “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; see also 2:51).

[i] The term “Archimandrite” can refer to a superior abbot who is given authority over several ordinary abbots and monasteries. However, it is more commonly used as an honorific, bestowed upon certain clergy out of respect, often out of gratitude for a special service to the church. This term is applied only to celibate clergy; married clergy receive the honorific of “archpriest”.

The Great Panagia

The following is from “The Scent of Holiness”
by Constantina R. Palmer


The Great Panagia

The Great Panagia

The love and admiration the saints have for the Most Holy Theotokos is one of the main common characteristics of their holiness. Countless are the stories in which you read of the saints’ devotion to the All-holy Lady. St. Mary of Egypt went to live out her days in the desert after her encounter with an icon of the Mother of God. St. Nektarios wrote hymns to her in Ancient Greek to demonstrate his love and devotion to her. And Elder Joseph the Hesychast could barely say her name without tears streaming down his face.

Elder Isidoros the blind was also like that. One evening, sitting down with a group of people, he bowed his head and crossed himself while tears rolled down his cheeks. Wiping them away, he said, “Excuse me, but at this time of night the love of the Mother of God pulls me.”

“That’s why,” the nuns told me, “he won’t speak about Panagia in front of too many people. He’ll start to cry.”

One afternoon I sat with the elder in the reception room. Since we were alone, I thought I’d take the opportunity to start up the conversation about the Mother of God he had said we would have.

“Papouli, why don’t you talk to me about Panagia now?”

“Okay, what you would like to know?”

“Why don’t you just tell me about her?” I asked him.

“She is . . . she is . . .” he said, raising his hand in the air and waving it in a circular motion— a gesture Greeks do when they are either pleased or annoyed about something.

“She is . . . she is . . . she’s like . . .”   he said, rubbing his hands together and ever so slightly smiling.

“I can’t describe her. She’s indescribable!” he finally said.

He then started singing the Supplicatory Canon to her: “Now to God’s Mother let us humble sinners run in haste and in repentance let us fall down before her feet, crying aloud with fervor from the depths of our souls, ‘Sovereign Lady, help us now, have compassion upon us, hasten for we perish from our many offenses. Let not your servants go empty away; we have you as our only hope.’” “Do you have the Paraclesis * here?” the elder asked.

“Yes, Papouli, but it’s in English,” I told him.

“Ah, never mind,” he said. He leaned his head back and rested it against the wall.

“How can we become like her?” I asked.

“You know she lived in the Temple from the age of three on,” he said.

“Yes, I know. She was the first hesychast.”

“That’s right! That’s right!” he said. “She was the most pure person that ever lived. She was pure because she never once accepted a bad thought. Not once. She kept her mind, her soul, and her body perfectly pure.”

I understood this to be his answer to my question. We can become like her if we also control our thoughts and struggle to attain purity of heart and mind.

He sang some different hymns to her and then he told me, “The more we cry out to her, the more she will harken to our prayers.”

I knew he spoke from experience. For, although he was blind since birth, when he went to the Holy Mountain to become a monk, his sight was gradually restored. For ten days he could see, but he told the Mother of God, “Panagia, take my sight back so I don’t lose Paradise.”

And she did.

But he wasn’t truly blind. He simply couldn’t use his bodily eyes. He’s been known to describe things in detail, things he couldn’t possibly know if he were truly blind. “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind’” (John 9: 39).

 Palmer, Constantina (2012-10-05). The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery (Kindle Locations 3069-3099). Conciliar Press. Kindle Edition.

Elder Isidoros the Blind

Elder Isidoros the Blind

The Black Madonna

Black Madonna of Częstochowa (Our Lady of Czestochowa)

Black Madonna of Częstochowa (Our Lady of Czestochowa)




















This is Black Madonna of Częstochowa, also known as Our Lady of Czestochowa. This icon is of a type called the Hodegetria, or She Who Shows the Way. While the Virgin Mary is looking directly at the viewer, her right hand is directing your attention to her son, Jesus.

Church tradition is that this very icon was originally painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. Supposedly he painted it on a tabletop while interviewing her for what became the Gospel of Luke. The icon cannot be properly dated because it was poorly and incorrectly restored in the 1400’s after being damaged by the Hussites. If we disregard Church tradition (and why exactly would we do that), the icon is first known to western history upon its arrival in Częstochowa in 1382.

Islam and the Virgin Mary

Maryam (The Blessed Saint Mary)

Maryam (The Blessed Saint Mary)

The discovery that Islam maintains a special place for the Virgin Mary may come as a surprise. Sally Cunneen describes the Pope’s use of the Virgin Mary to lead the crusades as a “tragic misunderstanding”, for Mary “is deeply honored in the Qu’ran, in Islamic exegesis, and in Muslim Piety. She is the only female identified by name in the Qu’ran; her name appears there (thirty-four times) far more often than in the whole New Testament. (Cunneen 1996, 155-156) Following Cunneen’s lead reveals a wealth of information on the subject. Of Mary’s role in Islam, Juan Galvin writes:

An authentic Haddith states that the Prophet said, “The superiority of ‘Aisha to other ladies is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e. meat and bread dish) to other meals. Many men reached the level of perfection, but no woman reached such a level except Mary, the daughter of Imran and Asia, the wife of Pharaoh.” (Bukhari 4.643). Indeed, both Mary and Pharaoh’s wife are an example (Quran 66:11-12). The Virgin Mary plays a very significant role in Islam. She is an example and a sign for all people. (Galvan n.d.)

There is a possibility that Juan Galvin is overstating the importance of Mary in Islam. Timothy J. Winter (a.k.a. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, a Cambridge lecturer and British Muslim researcher, writer and columnist) notes that there are at least four women who are similarly honored in Islam, and there are legitimate questions as to which of these four women is the ideal model of perfection for women.

For Christians, Mary is unrivalled as the model of female perfection. Islam, however, has debated the merits of several women. A hadīth which has come down to us in more than one version suggests that there have been four ‘Perfect Women’ in history. One is Āsiya, the wife of the Pharoah who challenged Moses, revered by the Muslim chroniclers as a saint who endured the rages of her husband. A hadīth tells us that a woman who suffers maltreatment from her husband will be rewarded as was Āsiya; and she hence becomes a model and a source of hope for women caught [in] abusive relationships. Another ‘Perfect Women’ is Khadīja, the first to believe in the message of the Prophet, and who, as a successful businesswoman who took the prophet into her employ, provides a traditional model for Muslim women who have sought a living in the world. Thirdly, there is Mary. And fourthly, there is the Prophet’s daughter Fātima. …

But although Mary is a spiritual inspiration, it is Fātima who has more usually supplied the role model for Muslim women in their search for practical perfection. Mary’s virginity is revered as her greatest miracle, but Islam’s positive view of sexuality, and the value Muslim piety has traditionally attached to the married state as the preferred matrix for spiritual life, have rendered a true imitatio mariae impossible. Fātima’s spiritual exaltation, proclaimed by the Prophet himself, far from appearing compromised by her biological fulfillment, was sustained and vindicated by it. She is, in the Muslim memory, the fountainhead of the Prophet’s descendants, the ancestress of saints, the mother of tragic heroes. Through her non-virginal but no less immaculate example, Muslim women have found their assurance that the approach to God can be enhanced rather than impeded by the normal functions of womanhood. (Schleifer 2008, 12)

While there appear to be legitimate and long-standing discussions within Islam regarding the position of the Virgin Mary, as evidenced by the disparity between Juan Galvin, who quotes Haddiths; and Timothy J. Winter, who describes Islamic tradition. However, we would do well to listen to voice of the Sufi mystic and Waliullah (or intimate friend of Allah, as Islamic saints are known), Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak Al-Jerrahi. Sheik Mazaffer Oxak begins his book “Blessed Virgin Mary” in this manner:

The Virgin Mary, blessed Mother of Jesus, may peace be upon them both, is described in the Glorious Quran, and therefore in all Islamic teaching, as the most sanctified of women. In the following verses, the Holy Quran proclaims her as the paragon of virtue and purity, surpassed by none before her as the supreme expression of womanhood. “And the angels said: ‘O Mary, Allah has selected you and purified you. He has chosen you above all womankind. O Mary, be devoted to your Lord. Prostrate yourself and bow with those who bow in worship.’ (Q.3:42-43)

Allah offers the blessed Mary as an example for all those who believe: ‘Mary, Imrān’s daughter, guarded her virginity, so We breathed Our Holy Spirit into her, and she confirmed the truth of the words of her Lord, and she was one of those who are devoted.’ (Q.66:12) (Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak Al-Jerrahi 1991, 1)

With these quotations from the Quran, and his commentary on them, Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak makes it clear that calling Mary “the most sanctified of women” does not mean that she is an example for women alone, but a model for all. It is not for me, as a Christian, to comment upon which takes precedence: the Holy Quran, the Haddith, or Islamic tradition. It is important to note, however, that all of them support the sanctity of the Virgin Mary; all of them support the veneration of the Virgin Mary; and all of describe the importance of the Virgin Mary as an example for those who believe.

There are important similarities between the way Islam and (non-Protestant) Christianity treats the Virgin Mary, but there are important differences. One interesting difference is the manner in which Islam and Christianity use typology. One of the earliest and most important typologies of the Virgin Mary in Christianity is the Eve/Mary typology. Where Eve was deceived, Mary was not; where Eve was disobedient, Mary was not; where Eve is the mother of all sinners, Mary is the mother of all who believe. Juroslav Pelikan notes that for Islam, it is Hagar, the mother of Ishmael (rather than Eve), who is typologically related to the Virgin Mary.

Hagar went “to a distant place,” the first time when her pregnancy aroused the jealousy of Sarah and the second time after the birth of Isaac. Her despairing cry was answered by a miraculous intervention of God. Because the Qur’ān was, by definition, a new revelation that came all at once in a blinding series of moments of divine authority, we can only speculate about the earlier stages of this typology between Hagar and Mary. But it does not seem to stretch historical and literary probability to dray an analogy with the typology between Eve and Mary discussed earlier. For Hagar, too, was a founding mother, as Eve was; and Ishmael was the eponymous beginning of the people known as Ishmaelites. This entire construct, therefore, may be seen to have been an Islamic way of celebrating the special place of the Virgin Mary in the history of the dealings of “allah, most benevolent, ever-merciful,” with the world. (Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture 1996, 73)

Islamic and Historic Christian Understandings of the Virgin Mary

In his forward to Dr. Aliah Schleifer’s book “Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam”, Timothy J. Winter writes: “[T]he Qur’ān has somewhat more to say about her than has the Bible, and credits her with an active and even prophetic role.” (Schleifer 2008, 9) As to the active and even prophetic role, both Islam and (non-Protestant) Christian understandings of the Virgin Mary agree. But while there are similarities, there are distinct differences. Islam, being strictly monotheist, cannot acknowledge the triune mystery: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” Thus while Islam confesses the sinlessness of both Jesus and Mary, Islam cannot confess Jesus to be the Son of God. Therefore, Islam does not acknowledge Mary to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  Timothy J. Winter writes: “For most Christians, Mary is the Mother of God, yet for Muslims, although she is a perfected saint and a focus of intercessory hopes, she exercises no indispensable role in the economy of salvation. For while Islam and Christianity concur in affirming a perfect Creator God, they differ, as their rival Marys show, on how that God touches individual souls and brings them to perfection.” (Schleifer 2008, 10-11)

The Jesus of Islam has more in common with “revisionist New Testament scholarship” than with the historic Christian understanding of Jesus; yet Islam shows both Jesus and Mary more honor than a revisionist New Testament scholar would be comfortable with. (Schleifer 2008, 10) The basis for this honor would be familiar to the Eastern Orthodox (along with the Oriental Orthodox, Coptic Christians, and others) than it would be for both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Timothy J. Winter writes:

Christians discern liberation in a God who descended into history out of infinite love, and gave himself to ransom us from sin. Muslims, whose narrative of the Fall excludes any understanding of original sin, must respectfully dissent from this view. The divine love, duly conjoined with justice, ensures that a full and liberative forgiveness is available to all who freely turn to God in penitence, in the way that has been so amply witnessed by great saints today and in the Muslim past. For Muslims, the Blessed Virgin is not theotokos, the woman that bore God Himself and gazed in love upon Him as He lay in straw. Instead, she bears witness to the presence of the God who need not ‘come’ into the world, because He has never been ‘absent’ from it. (Schleifer 2008, 11)

Interestingly, both the Islamic and Eastern Orthodox view of the Fall exclude the idea of original sin, the idea that the guilt of Adam is passed from parents to their children. Thus neither faith has any need for the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. And both the Eastern Orthodox and Islam do not conceive of a God who needed to come down from heaven to be with us; both faiths accept the transcendence and immanence of God; that God is entirely different and wholly other than we are, and yet is, in the words of the Quran, “nearer to us than the jugular vein.” (Schleifer 2008, 11)

Islamic and Protestant Understandings of the Virgin Mary

Herein is a curios truth: Islam and the churches of the Reformation may differ as to their belief in the incarnation, but they are alike in their view of Mary as an example and sign. Juan Galvin, in an essay entitled “Jesus and The Virgin Mary in Islam”, writes:

An authentic Haddith states that the Prophet said, “The superiority of ‘Aisha to other ladies is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e. meat and bread dish) to other meals. Many men reached the level of perfection, but no woman reached such a level except Mary, the daughter of Imran and Asia, the wife of Pharaoh.” (Bukhari 4.643). Indeed, both Mary and Pharoah’s wife are an example (Quran 66:11-12). The Virgin Mary plays a very significant role in Islam. She is an example and a sign for all people. (Galvin n.d.)

Kreitzer points out that in the preaching of the 2nd generation of Lutheran pastors, Mary was an example and sign for all Christians to follow; she was used as a means of moral instruction, but most especially as a model for women. (Kreitzer 2004, 138-140)

In order to preserve her reputation and her chastity, a girl should attend only pious functions such as church services, but otherwise remain safely at home. When the angel came to Mary to tell her of the incarnation, she was found at home, probably praying, according to many sermons. Mary also regularly serves as a special model for females. …The image of Mary most popular among Lutheran preachers seems to be of the pious and chaste girl, happy to serve her relatives, but otherwise gladly remaining and working at home. Mary did not leave her family to join a convent, but instead shows all girls how they should be happy in their domestic and familial vocations. The domesticating ideology often found in these sermons gains particular weight when it is declared that Mary, the blessed Mother of God, acted in just these recommended ways. (Kreitzer 2004, 140)

There is a fascinating distinction to make between these two positions. While both Protestants and Muslims believe in the virgin birth, Muslims actually assign God’s choice of Mary to the perfection of her character. In other words, the Muslims have a higher view of Mary than do the Protestants. However, because of what Juroslav Pelikan calls the “single-minded concentration of the religion of the Qūran on the unequivocal oneness of God”, Jesus was simply the “good son” of Mary, and not the Son of God. (Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture 1996, 71) In other words, by denying Mary the title of Mother of God, Muslims deny the incarnation. Protestants who deny Mary the same title are ultimately denying the doctrine of the person of Christ having two natures and two wills — the one divine, the other human.

Islam and the Immaculate Conception

Certain general similarities exist between the Protestant and the Islamic view of Mary, but there are important differences. In particular, the both Catholics and Muslims hold to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This peculiarity is found as we dig deeper into what the Koran and the Hadith (or the sayings of Mohammed) have to say about the Virgin Mary. For this purpose I chose to use Giancarlo Finazzo’s 1978 article for L’Osservatore Romano, entitled “The Virgin Mary in the Koran”.

Among the persons of Sacred History mentioned in the Koran, the Virgin Mary occupies an important position on the historical and dogmatic plane. In addition to being the object of as many as thirty-four direct or indirect references, Mary also gives Sura XIX its name and is its central figure as the mother of Jesus. The characteristic note of references to the Virgin in the Koran and, to an even greater extent, in Islamic tradition, can be seen both in the information about her genealogy and her childhood — a part of which is more detailed than in the four Gospels — and in the language and way of narration which are seen to be particularly significant. Without going deeply into the question of the validity of the information and of the vast Islamic exegetics or “Mariology” to which it has given rise, we will limit ourself here to recalling that the sources of Moslem tradition are, in this connection, the Arab Gospel of Childhood, the Protogospel of James, the Gospel of Pseudo Matthew, the traditions of judaizing Christians and the Hadith.

To confirm the extraordinary value of the person of Mary, the fact that to her, alone among creatures, and to her Son, is attributed a nature exempt from all sin, is sufficient. We know that the Islamic religion ignores the concept of original sin; it attributes to man, however, a natural defectibility which makes him impure and imperfect from birth. Nevertheless, in a famous Hadith attributed to the Prophet, it is affirmed that: “Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son”. From this Hadith and from verses 35-37 of Sura III, Moslem commentators have deduced and affirmed the principle of Mary’s original purity. God, in fact, according to the Koranic text, granted the wish of Anna who consecrated to him Mary, about to be born, and the One to whom she would give birth (III, 37). God predestined Mary and purified her, raising her above all women (III, 45).

After this premise it is not surprising that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, though only implicitly contained in verses III, 31, 37, is univocally recognized by the Islamic religion. The recognition arises without difficulty also from the repeated and always unanimous evaluation of the extraordinary person of Mary and of her pure life (III, 42; XXI 91; LXVI, 12) which set her, with her Son, above every other created being.

Mary’s childhood, as seen through the Koran narration and Islamic tradition, is entirely a miracle. Mary grows under direct divine protection, she is nourished daily by angels (III, 32) and has visions of God every day. Everything contributes to making her and her Son a signum for mankind (V, 79; XXI, 91; XXIII, 50). But if the detailed narration of Mary’s childhood confirms the exceptional value of her person, it is necessary to stress that the greatness of Mary is completely related to the extraordinary event constituted by the birth of her son Jesus. The fearful and sweet vicissitudes that precede and accompany the birth and the childhood of her whom God chose above all women, are, in fact; nothing but the prelude to the coming of the Messiah (III, 40). Therefore, in the intentions of Mahomet and the whole Islamic tradition, the advent of the Man generated by the Word (III, 45) finds in the history of the little Mary the mysterious preceding fact that prepares the believer, even more than the Gospels themselves do, for an expectation full of awe and hope. (Finazzo 1978)

For Roman Catholicism, with its dogma of Original Sin, the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary is necessary if Jesus is to be born without bearing the guilt of Adam’s sin. But the rationale for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in Islam is much different. The Islamic understanding of the Immaculate Conception seems more as a sign and symbol of the “extraordinary person of Mary and of her pure life”, whose person and life served as “the prelude to the coming of the Messiah.” Therefore in the Islamic understanding, the Immaculate Conception was a miracle demonstrating both the power of the God who predestined her for such great things, and the power of Mary as the preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

Islam and the New Testament Apocryphal Writings

Finazzo notes that there is more information about Mary’s genealogy and childhood than exists in the four Gospels. The apparent source for this information is the apocrypha, the traditions of Judaizing Christians, and the Hadith. While the early church rejected the Protogospel (or Protoevangelium) of James, Mohammed seems to have had at least a passing familiarity with it. It was only later that the Roman Catholic church appears to have made use of the Protogospel of James as a source for the development of its own Marian cult.

Summary of Islamic Views Compared to Various Christian Communions

Islam, like the majority of Christian confessions, accepts the purity or sinlessness of the Virgin Mary. It should be noted that like the Eastern Orthodox, Islam has no doctrine of original sin. Therefore, there is no need in Islam, or in Eastern Orthodoxy, for the idea of the Immaculate Conception as an explanation for her sinlessness. Thus it is curious that Islam should appear to have held this view long before it became Roman Catholic dogma.

The Holy Koran’s description of Mary’s childhood is remarkably similar to that portrayed in the apocryphal Protogospel (Protoevangelium) of James, especially in its description of the angel’s feeding Mary. The supernatural angelic provision for her is a sign of the advent, of the coming of the Messiah. This is quite different from the four Gospels, which make no mention Mary’s childhood, nor of any special preparation or provision for her task. Indeed, the Gospels focus little on Jesus’ own childhood. For the gospel writers, the proof of Jesus’ messiahship is the Virgin Birth itself, along with Jesus’ own ministry — culminating in his death, burial, and resurrection.

Finazzo rightly notes that the Koranic account of the Annunciation does not contain a mention of Mary’s fiat (or choice), which is “her responsible acceptance of the divine will.” (Finazzo 1978) Mary’s fiat — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” — plays a major part in both Orthodox and Catholic Christian theology, a part that has no part in the theology of Islam. Thus, according to Finazzo, the absence of Mary’s voluntary and necessary acceptance “confirms the typically Islamic sense of the absolute authority and power of God, and the complete submission of man to his will.” (Finazzo 1978) It is altogether remarkable that Protestant commentators lessen the impact of Mary’s fiat, reducing it also to a simple act of submission to God’s will (as mentioned in Part I).  In this manner the Calvinist insistence on the Sovereignty of God bears a remarkable resemblance to Islamic doctrine and practice.


Cunneen, Sally. In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

Finazzo, Giancarlo. “The Virgin Mary in the Koran.” Eternal Word Television Network, Global Catholic Network. April 13, 1978. http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/marykran.htm (accessed April 24, 2010).

Galvin, Juan. “Jesus and The Virgin Mary in Islam.” Islam for Today. n.d. http://www.islamfortoday.com/galvan03.htm (accessed August 18, 2011).

Kreitzer, Beth. Reforming Mary: Changing Images of the Virgin Mary in Lutheran Sermons of the Sixteengh Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Schleifer, Aliah. Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam. 3rd Edition. Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2008.

Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak Al-Jerrahi. Blessed Virgin Mary. Translated by Muhtar Holland. Westpory: Pir Publications, 1991.