The Sinlessness of our Most Holy Lady

Following the Third Ecumenical Council, the assimilation of the dogmatic teaching about the Theotokos was very slow. Certain Fathers were waypoints regarding the person of the Theotokos, such as Cyril of Alexandria, John Damascene, Gregory Palamas, Nicholas Kavasilas, Nikodimos the Athonite, and Silouan the Athonite.In this paper, we compare the positions of certain contemporary Orthodox theo-logians with those of the previously mentioned Fathers regarding the subject of the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary.


Let no uninitiated hand touch the living Ark of God’, we sing at the ninth ode of many of the feasts of the Mother of God. Indeed, the mystery concerning the person and the life of the Mother of God is a book ‘sealed with seven seals’1 for the uninitiated, for those who do not have the revelation, the divine grace. It is a real and audacious mystery, divine and human, inaccessible to those with feet of clay. How can anyone understand the most sublime matters concerning the Mother of God, since he or she does not even have experience of lesser things? How can anyone who has not been purged of the passions speak with authority about deification?...

The Gospels are silent regarding the life of Our Lady, the Virgin, and reveal only very little. But the Holy Spirit, with the Tradition of the Church, teaches us a great deal, such as the significance and meaning of the Gospel references. And the Mother of God herself often reveals information to her faithful servants, the Fathers of the Church. 

In the beginning, the Church was not greatly concerned with formulating dogma about Our Lady. It did so only as regards the Triune God (Trinitarian dogma) and the incarnate Word (Christological dogma). The dogmatic teaching of the Church concerning Our Lady was formulated gradually, in direct correlation with Christology. It was only the Roman Catholic Church which formulated particular doctrines about Our Lady (immaculate conception, the assumption of her body, etc.). Thus, Saint Basil the Great, within the perspective of the ancient patristic tradition and addressing those who had doubts about the virginity of the Mother of God after she gave birth, shifted the significance of the matter onto the virgin birth of Christ, and said that virginity was essential until the incarnation, but that we should not be curious about afterwards because of the mystery involved.3 


*Literally ‘outside the temple’ therefore ‘uninitiated’, which is what the hymn says, rather than the modern meaning of ‘irreverent’. [trans. note]

1. Rev 5:1.

2. Basil the Great, Εἰς τήν ἁγίαν τοῦ Χριστοῦ γέννησιν 5 (PG 31:1468ΑΒ).

3. See Chrysostomos Stamoulis, Θεοτόκος καί ὀρθόδοξο δόγμα. Σπουδή στή διδασκαλία τοῦ ἁγίου Κυρίλλου Ἀλεξανδρείας (Thessaloniki: Palimpsiston, 1996).

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