An Orthodox Christian Understanding of the Immaculate Conception

Source: Hellenic News of America

The following excerpt, from The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God by our modern day Saint John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, is an Orthodox Christian response to the Roman Catholic belief of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The Immaculate Conception, the belief that the Mother of God was conceived and born without sin, was declared a dogma of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics.

Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, do not subscribe to the Immaculate Conception. Therefore, we do not have a feast day for it either. We do however have an important feast on the following day, December 9, on which we celebrate the Conception of the Theotokos by Saint Anna. There is a difference, a profound one, for Orthodox Christians.

What I share here from Saint John is not meant to hurl insults, discrimination, hatred, or any of the sort. I just want to clarify some things. Saint John reposed in 1966 and is considered one of the greatest Orthodox Saints in the 20th century. His writing simply clarifies the Orthodox position, which is not the same as the Roman Catholic. If anything sounds a little harsh from what he says, I bring to mind 2 things. First, Saint John in his book cites Roman Catholic Saints in helping to explain the Orthodox position: Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clarivaux. Aquinas and Bernard are not Saints of the Orthodox Church, but they were pillars of the Roman Catholic Church during the medieval period. Both Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux decisively rejected the teaching of the Immaculate Conception however, seeing it as something foreign to the beliefs of the ancient Church. Secondly, Saint John Maximovitch was not a hateful fanatic out to hurt people. He was actually a bishop in Paris for a period of time and was loved even by French Roman Catholics. In fact, there were Catholic clergy who were encouraging their flock at the time to look to John as a living Saint in their midst.

We Orthodox believe that the Panagia was conceived and born in a state of sin since she is a human being just like the rest of us. Only Christ was free of sin. We do venerate the Panagia highly though. She is the holiest of all the Saints and is like a member of our families. We do believe that the Panagia committed no actual personal sins. We believe that both through God’s grace and her free cooperation with God’s grace – both go together- she committed no sin. We believe she overcame every temptation to sin and thus remained ever pure, even in her mind and soul. There is a synergy, a cooperation, going on between God and the Panagia. She exercises her free will to respond to God.

The teaching of the complete sinlessness of the Mother of God (1) does not correspond to Sacred Scripture, where there is repeatedly mentioned the sinlessness of the “One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 2:5); “and in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5); “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22); “One that hath been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15); “Him who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf” (II Cor. 5:21). But concerning the rest of men it is said, Who is pure of defilement? No one who has lived a single day of his life on earth (Job 14:4). God commendeth His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8-10).

(2) This teaching contradicts also Sacred Tradition, which is contained in numerous Patristic writings, where there is mentioned the exalted sanctity of the Virgin from Her very birth, as well as Her cleansing by the Holy Spirit at Her conception of Christ, but not at Her own conception by Anna. “There is none without stain before Thee, even though his life be but a day, save Thou alone, Jesus Christ our God, Who didst appear on earth without sin, and through Whom we all trust to obtain mercy and remission of sins.” (St. Basil the Great, Third Prayer of Vespers of Pentecost.) “But when Christ came through a pure, virginal, unwedded, God-fearing, undefiled Mother without wedlock and without father, and inasmuch as it befitted Him to be born, He purified the female nature, rejected the bitter Eve and overthrew the laws of the flesh” (St. Gregory the Theologian, “In Praise of Virginity”). However, even then, as Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom speak of this, She was not placed in the state of being unable to sin, but continued to take care of Her salvation and overcame all temptations (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on John, Homily 85; St. Basil the Great, Epistle 160).

(3) The teaching that the Mother of God was purified before Her birth, so that from Her might be born the Pure Christ, is meaningless; because if the Pure Christ could be born only if the Virgin might be born pure, it would be necessary that Her parents also should be pure of original sin, and they again would have to be born of purified parents, and going further in this way, one would have to come to the conclusion that Christ could not have become incarnate unless all His ancestors in the flesh, right up to Adam inclusive, had been purified beforehand of original sin. But then there would not have been any need for the very Incarnation of Christ, since Christ came down to earth in order to annihilate sin.

(4) The teaching that the Mother of God was preserved from original sin, as likewise the teaching that She was preserved by God’s grace from person sins, makes God unmerciful and unjust; because if God could preserve Mary from sin and purify Her before Her birth, why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rather leaves them in sin? It follows likewise that God saves men apart from their will, predetermining certain ones before their birth to salvation.

(5) This teaching, which seemingly has the aim of exalting the Mother of God, in reality completely denies all Her virtues. After all, if Mary, even in the womb of Her mother, when She could not even desire anything either good or evil, was preserved by God’s grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was preserved from sin even after Her birth, then in what does Her merit consist? If She could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify Her? If She, without any effort, and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is She crowned more than everyone else? There is no victory without an adversary.

The righteousness and sanctity of the Virgin Mary were manifested in the fact that She, being “human with passions like us,” so loved God and gave Herself over to Him, that by Her purity She was exalted high above the rest of the human race. For this, having been foreknown and forechosen, She was vouchsafed to be purified by the Holy Spirit Who came upon Her, and to conceive of Him the very Saviour of the world. The teaching of the grace-given sinlessness of the Virgin Mary denies her victory over temptations; from a victor who is worthy to be crowned with crowns of glory, this makes Her a blind instrument of God’s Providence.

It is not an exaltation and greater glory, but a belittlement of her, this “gift” which was given Her by Pope Pius IX and all the rest who think they can glorify the Mother of God by seeking out new truths. The Most Holy Mary has been so much glorified by God Himself, so exalted is Her life on earth and Her glory in heaven, that human inventions cannot add anything to Her honor and glory. That which people themselves invent only obscures Her Face from their eyes. Brethren, take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ, wrote the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:18).

Such a “vain deceit” is the teaching of the Immaculate Conception by Anna of the Virgin Mary, which at first sight exalts, but in actual fact belittles Her. Like every lie, it is a seed of the “father of lies” (John 8:44), the devil, who has succeeded by it in deceiving many who do not understand that they blaspheme the Virgin Mary. Together with it there should also be rejected all the other teaching which have come from it or are akin to it. The striving to exalt the Most Holy Virgin to an equality with Christ ascribing to her maternal tortures at the Cross an equal significance with the sufferings of Christ, so that the Redeemer and “Co-Redemptress” suffered equally, according to the teaching of the Papists, or that “the human nature of the Mother of God in heaven together with the God-Man Jesus jointly reveal the full image of man” (Archpriest S. Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, p. 141) – is likewise a vain deceit and a seduction of philosophy. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:39), and Christ has redeemed the whole human race; therefore at His Resurrection equally did “Adam dance for joy and Eve rejoice” (Sunday Kontakia of the First and Third Tones), and by His Ascension did the Lord raise up the whole of human nature.

Likewise, that the Mother of God is a “complement of the Holy Trinity” or a “fourth Hypostasis”; that “the Son and the Mother are a revelation of the Father through the second and Third Hypostases”; that the Virgin Mary is a “creature, but also no longer a creature” – all this is the fruit of vain, false wisdom which is not satisfied with what the Church has held from the time of the Apostles, but strives to glorify the Holy Virgin more than God glorified Her.

Thus are the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus fulfilled: “Certain senseless ones in their opinion about the Holy Ever-Virgin have striven and are striving to put Her in place of God” (St. Epiphanius, “Against the Antidikomarionites”). But that which is offered to the Virgin in senselessness, instead of praise of Her turns out to be blasphemy; and the All-Immaculate One rejected the lie, being the Mother of Truth (John 14:6).

See also
The Lord’s Brethren The Lord’s Brethren
Sergei Khudiev
The Lord’s Brethren The Lord’s Brethren
Sergei Khudiev
First of all, what does the word “brethren” mean? In the Bible it can signify various degrees of relation: blood brother, half-brother, or cousin. Some Protestant Bible scholars consider that after giving birth to Jesus, Mary had children by Joseph, and it is these children who are mentioned here.
The Conception of the Holy Virgin Theotokos by Saint Anna The Conception of the Holy Virgin Theotokos by Saint Anna
Commemorated December 9/22; Sergei Bulgakov
The Conception of the Holy Virgin Theotokos by Saint Anna The Conception of the Holy Virgin Theotokos by Saint Anna
Commemorated December 9/22
Sergei Bulgakov
Struck by the speech of the High Priest, as though by the awesome verdict of the judgment of God Himself, the righteous man had no time even to withdraw from the altar, as a new heavier insult struck his hearing. One of the Israelites bringing his gifts, pushed him away, said, “Depart from here, did you not hear that you are unworthy to bring gifts to God together with us, because you have not left offspring for Israel?” With deep humility Joachim accepted this accusation as if it were from the mouth of the very God, and with deep sadness left the temple.
Western Europeans in Search of Truth<br> The Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, Asten, the Netherlands Western Europeans in Search of Truth
The Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, Asten, the Netherlands

Nun Cornelia (Rees)
Western Europeans in Search of Truth<br> The Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, Asten, the Netherlands Western Europeans in Search of Truth The Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, Asten, the Netherlands
Nun Cornelia (Rees)
The founder and Abbess of this small community is Mother Maria, who was born in Den Hague. Mother Maria is an edifying example of one who sought and found, asked, and received. The visible result is this convent.
Editor12/8/2023 10:25 pm
Luke: We recognize and honor the countless miracles that are granted to Christians through prayers to the Mother of God. The greatest miracle is her giving birth to the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. But the many miracles do not mean that the late Roman Catholic idea of the immaculate conception is correct. It was never taught by the Church fathers, never confirmed a the Ecumenical Councils, and has no reliable foundation.
Luke O&#39;Hara12/8/2023 12:16 pm
Friends, the Blessed Virgin herself confirmed the truth of her own Immaculate Conception by dint of her miracles at Lourdes. Period. Just try to confute those countless miracles of healing.
Dan10/21/2022 6:37 am
Mary being Immaculately conceived doesn't take away her free will, or mean she didn't grow in faith, understanding, love of God. She was a human being. Adam and Eve were created immaculate and guess what, they sinned. They had free will so did Mary.
Mikael4/27/2021 10:48 am
Well, objections don't seem really serious or strong to me; I think there are better ones and these come from Protestant sectors. I will quickly comment that objection 1 is an ipso facto failure. Although Scripture declares that Christ was free from sin, it does not explicitly do so in 2 senses: 1) that he is the ONLY free from sin and 2) the context where his impeccability is mentioned is usually associated with personal sins. Furthermore, the fact that he is not mentioned as the only one free from sin is consistent with the universal belief that toddlers do not commit personal sins. So Juan de Shangai's objection would exclude these little ones from personal impeccability. The other objections would make me write too much more since fundamental points of the Catholic faith are ignored. But examining the first one, I think it is enough to corroborate that there is not great depth in his objections.
Editor1/13/2021 1:43 pm
Oscar: This book was published by St. Herman Press. You can find it here: You can contact them to talk about a Spanish translation.
Oscar Mauricio López Casillas1/12/2021 8:55 pm
Hi, brothers and sisters in Christ! I hope you're doing well. Can I translate it to Spanish? I think this is a very worth article, and deserves to be known. In any case, thank you for the article. Greetings from Mexico! May God bless.
Josephat Kiarie5/26/2020 9:45 am
The whole issue of disputing Marys immaculate conception, personally think it's a personal righteousness of Bible scholars who perceive that they have matured enough to engage in this discussion from this Angle. We have heard many heavenly messages from Jesus himself but He did not discuss His mother in this manner or different manner partaining her conception. Otherwise lets venerate our lady respectfully otherwise we might bite more than we can chew.
Alexander Leitner4/13/2020 12:57 pm
The teaching that the Most Holy Theotokos is free from all stain is an Orthodox patristic teaching. And all prayers, hymns...of the orthodox church give witness to it. St. Gregory Palamas.. they all agree that the Mostpure Virgin was "prepared" before She was ebven conceived. God prepared His Throne on earth. She was sanctified, prepared,etc. to be the Mother of God.

The Oldbelievers of Russia also give witness to this fact. The difference is the approach of original sin and original guilt and original stain and not the stainlessness of the Mostholy and Allimmaculate Theotkos
Adam Johnson6/12/2018 5:41 am
As Jesus is the new Adam who, not subject to the original sin, never entered into it, so too is Mary the new Eve in her humanity, having been tempted to sin, but never having succumb to the temptation. Original Sin is responsible for internal desire to sin, which Mary did not experience; it is not responsible for external temptation to sin, which Mary did experience and resisted. (4/4)
Adam Johnson6/12/2018 5:40 am
that Mary was without Original Sin does not erode her merit. Jesus, as admitted, had no Original Sin in His perfect human nature, and he was still subject to all temptation and suffering as a mortal man, only without the defect of succumbing to sin. Mary, too, under the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was subject to suffering and temptation, which she endured, but was free of all personal desire to sin. I doubt that St. John would argue that Adam and Eve were created into original sin -- nevertheless, the two of them entered into their temptations by the serpent and produced sin. This is because sin is still possible in an individual who is not under the effects of Original Sin. ... (3/4)
Adam Johnson6/12/2018 5:40 am
her for a time, as well as the presence of God Himself, and is therefore the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was instructed to be crafted from gold, a symbol of its purity. Christ, having no mortal father, derives all of His human nature from a single source: the virgin Mary. Since Jesus was perfect in both His divine nature and His human nature, it follows naturally that the human from which He was imparted His human nature ought to be a perfect human never sullied by the taint of sin. This preservation was not necessary for all of Jesus' lineage because He only shared His very body and all of His human nature with one single mortal being: Mary.

(5) The teaching ... (2/4)
Adam Johnson6/12/2018 5:39 am
I am a Roman Catholic strongly considering conversion to the Orthodox faith. While I am compelled by this article, I cannot help but address the two issues I have with this argumentation:

(3) Mary was not conceived sinless because it was necessary, but because it was fitting. Christ shared his body in utero with the Theotokos, including his blood. As Catholics we see that Christ is the Logos fulfillment of the Mosaic Laws inscribed on the stone tablets, the High Priest fulfillment of Aaron's staff, and the Bread of Heaven fulfillment of the Mana, all kept within the Ark of the Covenant. The virgin mother contained the Word of God, the High Priest, and the Bread of Heaven inside of ... (1/4)
Worku 8/31/2016 2:57 am
Thank you I want to get more info like it.
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required