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Titles of the Holy Theotokos, Saint Mary

  • Theotokos – Theotokos is a Greek word meaning Mother of God. This title was given to her in the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431 AD. Saint Kyrillos the Great insisted on that title in his response to the heresy of Nestorius. Saint Elizabeth, her first cousin, addressed her with this title as she said, “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43).
  • The Queen Who is by the Right Side of the King – This title comes from David the Psalmist, as he said, “At your hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir” (Psalm 45:9). This is why in her Icon, she is portrayed at the right hand of Christ our Lord and King. In the Divine Liturgy, in the Gospel Response, we also say “The Lady and the Queen of us all…”
  • Our Mother the Holy Virgin – When Jesus was on the Cross, He said to the Apostle John, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).
  • The Ladder of Jacob – Saint Mary is a symbol of the ladder which “was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven” (Genesis 28:12). This is the symbol of the Virgin, who by giving birth to Christ, made the inhabitants of the earth reach heaven.
  • The Bride – She is called the Bride because she is the true bride of the Lord of Glory. The word of the Lord in the following Psalm was realized in her: “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him” (Psalm 45:10-11). This is why she is called the friend of Solomon, who is the Virgin of the Song of Songs. It was said of her in the same Psalm: “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the king in robes of many colors” (Psalm 45:13-14).
  • The Beautiful Dove – The title is in remembrance of the beautiful dove that carried to our father Noah a branch of an olive tree, as a symbol of peace, bringing to him the good news of the deliverance from the waters of the flood (Genesis 8:11). With this title, the priest burns incense in front of her icon when he goes out of the sanctuary and says: “Hail to you, O Virgin Mary, the beautiful dove”. In the Praxis response, the deacons chant in Coptic “Hail to you, Mary, the fair dove, who bore to us God the Logos.” Saint Mary is compared to the dove in her simplicity and purity, and the action of the Holy Spirit in her. She resembles the dove which brought the good news of the deliverance after the flood, because she brought the good news of our deliverance (salvation) in Christ.
  • The Cloud – The Virgin Mary also has the title of The Cloud because of her high status and because the prophecy of her coming to Egypt compared her in this manner. This was mentioned in the book of Isaiah: “The burden against Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst” (Isaiah 19:1). The expression “cloud” is a symbol of the Lord who will come upon the clouds (Matthew 16:27).
  • The Golden Censer – We call her “Ti Shori” which means the Golden Censer in Coptic, and is one of the Coptic hymns sung by the deacons in the Divine Liturgy. The Golden Censer is sometimes referred to as the “Censer of Aaron” (Numbers 16:46). Also, the coal in the Censer symbolizes the human nature of Christ, and fire symbolizes His divine nature. Saint Paul says, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The censer symbolizes the womb of Saint Mary, where divinity was united with humanity. The censer being made of gold points to the greatness and the purity of the Virgin, and this is why we call her The Golden Censer in the hymns.
  • The Second Heaven – She is called the second heaven because as heaven is the home of God, the Virgin Mary was the home of God during her sacred pregnancy.
  • The City of God – The prophecy of the following Psalm is realized in her: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God” (Psalm 87:3). It is also said of her, “the city of the great king.” Also, certain prophecies which were said about Jerusalem are realized in her: “And of Zion it will be said, this one and that one were born in her; and the most High Himself shall establish her” (Psalm 87:5).
  • The Vine where was Found the Cluster of Life – The Cluster of Life is Christ. The Church asks for her intercession with that title in the prayer of the third hour in the Agpeya, saying to her: “O mother of God, you are the true vine who bears the cluster of life…”
  • The Mother of the True Light – It was said of Christ that He is “the true light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9).
  • The Golden Lamp – She is called the Golden Lamp because she bears the Light, Christ.
  • The Mother of the Holy One – When archangel Gabriel appeared to Saint Mary to announce to her the birth of Christ, he said to her: “also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
  • The Mother of Our Savior – She has this title because Christ is the Savior of the world; “and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
  • The Burning Bush – The burning bush appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:2. In the song of The Burning Bush that we sing during the month of Kiahk, we say, “The burning bush seen by Moses The prophet in the wilderness The fire inside it was aflame But never consumed or injured it. The same with the Theotokos Mary Carried the fire of Divinity Nine months in her holy body.” Again it was said of Christ that He is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The fire burning inside the bush is a symbol of Christ and the bush itself symbolizes the Virgin.
  • The Ark of the Testimony – This title refers to the sanctuary that God told Moses and the Israelites to build for Him in Exodus, Chapter 25. The ark was made of acacia wood that cannot be moth-eaten, and was covered with gold from inside and outside (Exodus 25:10, 22), which is a symbol of the purity and greatness of the Virgin. Christ was inside the Ark of The Testimony, and thus the Virgin is called the Ark of the Testimony because she carried Christ in her womb.
  • The Golden Pot of Manna – The manna is a symbol of Christ, who is the live bread who came down from heaven. Everybody who eats from Him lives by Him, and He is also the bread of life (John 6:32, 48, 49). Since Christ is compared to the manna, Saint Mary is compared to the pot of manna, who carried this celestial bread inside her.
  • The Rod of Aaron that Budded – The Virgin miraculously “sprouted and carried the buds of life”, (Numbers 17:6-8), as did Aaron’s rod. A rod, of course, has no life in it that can produce blossoms and yield fruit, except by a miracle. This symbolizes the Virgin, who could not sprout or produce fruit, except through a miracle.
  • The Dome of Moses – The Dome of Moses is also known as the Tabernacle of Meeting, which was the place upon which the Lord used to come to speak to Moses (Exodus: Chapter 40, Leviticus: Chapter 1). Likewise, the Virgin is she upon whom the Lord came. God manifested His love in “The Dome of Moses,” who is the Virgin Mary. This is why we say in the Midnight Psalmody: “You have been compared, O Virgin Mary, to the tabernacle which Moses made on the mountain of Sinai, where God was inside.”
  • The Gate in the East – This is the gate that Ezekiel saw, in which the Lord said, “This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it therefore it shall be shut (Ezekiel 44:1-2). The prophet saw the glory of the Lord at his gate which is in the East, and the house was filled with it (Ezekiel 43: 2, 4, 5). This gate symbolizes the virginity of Saint Mary who was from the countries of the East (Nazareth); and how this virginity remained sealed.
  • The Gate of Life – It was said about Saint Mary in the book of Ezekiel: “As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by the way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way” (Ezekiel 44:3). Since the Lord is the Life, she is the Gate of Life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). That is why the virgin is the gate of life, the gate out of which the Lord came out, granting life to all those who believe in Him.  It is not surprising that we call Saint Mary “the gate” because the Church is also called “the gate.” Jacob said about Bethel: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).
  • The Holy of Holies – This is the temple in which the chief priest entered once a year, to make atonement for all the people (Leviticus: Chapter 16). The Lord of glory came once inside the Virgin Mary for the redemption of all the world.

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

August 15, 2012