For complete article goto: The Blessed Virgin Mary - Defender of Christions - Bishop Alexander
Theotokos literally translated means "The One who bore God" or "the God bearer".
From the early times of Christianity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of Her great virtues, Her help to the needy, and Her preeminent role in God's plan for the salvation of mankind, held a distinct position of admiration and love among Christians.
The honoring of the Holy Virgin began from the time when the Archangel Gabriel greeted Her with the words: "Rejoice, O Blessed One, the Lord is with Thee! Blessed art Thou among women!" announcing to Her the mystery of the conception of the Son of God. A few days later with the words "Blessed is the Fruit of Thy womb," the righteous Elizabeth saluted the pure Virgin. St. Luke explains in his Gospel that the Holy Spirit revealed to Elizabeth that Mary had become the Mother of the Lord, the promised Savior of mankind (Luke 1:28-42).
The Orthodox Church expresses reverence toward the Blessed Virgin by the many feast days commemorating the various events in Her life. In prayers the Virgin Mary is called Theotokos, which in Greek means the Mother of God, since the One Who was born from Her was at the time of conception and always will be the true God.
Many Christian preachers and poets composed prayers, songs of praise (called Akathists) (from the Greek, meaning not-sitting) and inspirational sermons in honor of the Virgin Mary. With all this reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Theotokos, it is consoling and enlightening to learn how she lived, how she prepared herself, and how she blossomed to such a spiritual height as to become the receptacle for the incarnate Word of God.
Several prophecies of the Old Testament foretold of the incarnation of the Son of God and of the blessed Woman who would become a tool for the salvation of mankind. The very first promise concerning the Redeemer, heard by our fallen ancestors Adam and Eve, contained a prophecy about a special Woman. God said to the devil: "I shall put enmity between thee and the Woman, and between thy seed and Her Seed" (Genesis 3:15). It should be noted that during the time of the Old Testament the progeny were always called the seed or descendent of a male parent. Only here is the Redeemer-to-Come referred to as the Seed of the Woman, and this was the first indication that He would have no human father. Many centuries afterward the prophet Isaiah added important details to this first prophecy of Genesis. He said that the Woman, Who will give birth to the Messiah-Emmanuel, will be a virgin. "God Himself shall give you a sign," explained the prophet Isaiah to the disbelieving descendants of king David, — "the Virgin shall accept into her womb and bear a Son, and shall name Him Emmanuel, which means: God is with us" (Isaiah 7:14). Even though the word "Virgin" did not seem right to the ancient Hebrews, since a birth without fail conjectured conjugal cohabitation, they did not dare to substitute another more "appropriate" word, for example, "woman." Another important message in the prophecy of Isaiah about the coming Messiah is that He will be God Himself. Hence the title Theotokos — "birth-giver of God" — given to the Virgin Mary by the ancient Church.
The Icon of Znamenia, which means "The Sign", also known as the Icon of Kursk
It was found on September 8, 1295, by a hunter at the root of a tree on the bank of the Tuskor River in the province of Kursk. When he took the Icon in his hands, a spring of water came from under the tree. The hunter built a chapel near the tree and placed the Icon therein. From that time the Icon began to perform many miracles. In 1383 the Tartars of the Crimea, devastating the province, cut the Icon into two parts and threw them into opposite directions. They took as prisoner the priest Bogolyub, who performed the services in the chapel. Having been redeemed by the envoys of the Grand Duke of Moscow, Bogolyub found the split pieces of the Icon, joined them, and miraculously they grew together. In 1597 the Icon was brought to Moscow by the will of Tsar Feodor Ioannovich. In view of the return of the holy relic, a monastery was founded which was given the name of the Root Hermitage. Since the time of Tsar Feodor Ioannovich, the Icon has been encased in a cypress board, with the portrayal of the Lord Sabaoth above and of Prophets on the sides. In 1612 the Icon miraculously saved Kursk from being captured by the Poles. The grateful inhabitants built the monastery of Znamenie, into which the Icon was brought every year and stayed from the 12th of September until the Friday of the 9th week of Easter. The rest of the time it remained at the Hermitage. On March 7, 1898 the Icon remained unharmed during an attempt by revolutionaries to blow it up in the cathedral of the Znamensky monastery. After midnight a bomb placed under the Icon went off with a terrible noise. Everything around was torn apart and scattered. Only the Icon remained intact. During the revolution the Icon was also stolen in April of 1918, but was miraculously found in a well several months later. Finally the Icon was taken from Russia in 1920 by Bishop Theophan of Kursk and placed in Holy Trinity Church in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. This Holy Image rendered great assistance when Belgrade was bombarded during the Second World War. Bombs never fell on the houses visited by the Icon, although they destroyed the surrounding areas. Presently the Icon resides in the Znamenia Cathedral in New York City, though from time to time it is taken to different temples of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad for adoration. Every year numerous healings continue to flow from this Holy Icon.
Theotokos of "The Sign"
This is a variant of the Oranta Icon with Christ depicted in the Theotokos. The name of the icon is taken from Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign: behold a Virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.” Christ is depicted in a mandorla, a circle of glory. This reflects the words of the Akathist service to the Theotokos where the Theotokos is called: “...the brightest morning ...bearing the sun-Christ.” In many Orthodox Churches in the apse just above the alter, there is a large fresco of the Theotokos with the Christ child in a circle. Christ is depicted in a mandorla, a circle of glory. This reflects the words of the Akathist service to the Theotokos where the Theotokos is called: “...the brightest morning ...bearing the sun-Christ.” The Christ child has an adult face to denote that even in childhood He is the Wisdom of God. This icon teaches worshippers an important lesson: that Christ may be formed in us (Galatians 4:19) as Christ was formed in the Theotokos. The Theotokos is the prototype of the true believer. She summons us to respond to the call of God with the same faith and obedience as she did in order that Christ be formed in us as He was formed in her. Mary is the typos (type) of the Church, the expression of the fulfillment of the church’s mission. She is the example of the new people of God in whom and among whom God dwells: 2 Cor. 6:16, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God.” Christians are temples of the living God. I Cor. 3:16. The Epistles of St. Paul emphasize the indwelling Christ. He uses the expression “in Christ” in his letters one hundred and sixty-four times! Galatians 4:19: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you.”
We cannot be Christians unless Christ dwells within us and we in Him in the context of His body, the Church. The true gospel is opening the door as Mary did to let Christ be formed in us, to let Him dwell within us, to forgive us, to change us and to fill us with his light, life and love. St. Ambrose wrote: “Every believing soul conceives and gives birth to the Word of God. Christ, by means of our faith, is the fruit of us all, thus we are all mothers of Christ.” Here Ambrose is saying that the same Christ comes to be born in us and to dwell in us even as he did in the Theotokos. This icon is sometimes called “Wider than the heavens”(Platytera ton ouranion) Because the Theotokos gave birth to Christ, Who is God, the Creator of all things. Thus, because she received and conceived in herself, He Who cannot be contained in the whole of Creation, the Theotokos is indeed wider than the heavens.” The icon of the Theotokos with the Christ Child in the apse of an orthodox Church reminds worshippers that that the purpose of our life is that Christ be formed in us. The Theotokos shows us that a Christian is a person in whom Christ lives. She invites us to receive within us by faith, by the Word of God, and by the Eucharist the Christ Who was conceived and formed in her so that we too may become Theoforoi that is God bearers. She also stands before us on the front wall of the church with her arms raised in prayer to lead us in prayer to her Son, the Pantocrator who is depicted in the dome. She was the first to experience theosis, to become by grace what God is by nature. Like a ladder she unites heaven and earth, because it was through her that God in Christ came to us, and like Mary we too may ascend to Christ by faith.