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Mary the Theotokos

By The Revd Canon Cate Edmonds

When the candle of the Advent Wreath for the fourth Sunday of Advent is lit we remember the Virgin Mary.  There are several prayers set for reminding us that Gabriel brought good news to Mary and that she responded with joy.  Joy is also often associated with the fourth candle of the Advent Wreath.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is referred to in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as the Theotokos, the God bearer. When recording a Eucharist Service in my home during the first lockdown, I used the above painting as the backdrop, which elicited enquiries from several people who joined in the service.

The painting is by the late artist Lillian Delevoryas, an American artist who came to England in the 1970s. During the 1990s she was influenced by the icons of Greece and Russia and devoted herself to learning the techniques of iconography in order to penetrate its secrets. What is fascinating about her work is that she painted her icons over her old watercolour paintings, which for me brought real life into them. The background to this painting is a table laid with a lace cloth, flowers and a bowl of cherries. It is from her series of paintings based on the Icon of the Madonna and Child. These iconic paintings included images of Mary’s life, such as the Annunciation and the visitation of Gabriel. In the top corners are the letters MP on the left and OV on the right, literally translated from the Greek meaning Mother of God or the God Bearer. On all of this type of painting the following words were inscribed quoting from the Syrian Fathers:

“May I receive you not in the stomach that belongs to the body’s limbs but into the womb of my mind, so that you may be conceived there as in the womb of the virgin.”

Very powerful words indeed which I believe are worth reflecting upon. Whether we are comfortable with these words or not, each time I stop and read those words again and gaze into the face of Mary it has a profound and emotional effect on me.  We can often take the sweet image of Mary in our Nativity scenes for granted but this picture firmly reminds us of Mary the Theotokos, the God Bearer. Today on this final Sunday of Advent we remember and give thanks for Mary, for her willingness to answer the call from God and for her bravery and dedication as Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and we are filled with joy, as she was, at the birth of her Son and our Saviour. 

May I take this opportunity to wish you, as much as possible, a Joyous Christmas and a Blessed New Year