Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the first day of this new year, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Theotokos, or Mary as the Mother of God. This is celebrated on the eighth and last day of the Christmas Octave, to remember the very important and crucial role that Mary played in the history of our salvation and in Christmas, because she became the Mother of God by bearing Jesus Christ, Son of God in her.
This teaching and dogma of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, the Theotokos or Mother of God was formalised and made official at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in the year 431, out of the great debate of whether Mary was just the Mother of Jesus Christ the Man, or whether she was also the Mother of God because Jesus Christ is both God and Man, having both human nature and divine nature united in His one person.
During that time, the disagreements in the Church was led on one side by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, who championed the preference to call Mary as Christotokos or Christ-Bearer or Mother of Christ rather than Theotokos or God-Bearer or Mother or God. Although it may have seemed trivial to us as merely involving a variation in the honorary names and titles of Mary, but theologically the two titles highlighted a very fundamental and critical difference in a very core part of our Christian faith.
I am referring to the fact that by denying Mary the title of Theotokos and preferring Christotokos as proposed by the supporters of Nestorius actually also affected the nature of Christ as if Mary is not the Mother of God, but only the mother of Christ the Man, then Jesus’ humanity and divinity cannot have been united in His one persona, but are distinct and separate. This is the view and school of thought championed by Nestorius and his supporters.
The opponents of Nestorius and the champions of orthodoxy held the view that as Christ has two natures which are distinct and yet united in one person of Christ, then Mary who bore Him in her womb and gave birth to Him must also be the Mother of God, as if the humanity of Christ is united perfectly with His divinity, though distinct, then one cannot accept that Jesus is both Man and God without also proclaiming His mother Mary as the Mother of God.
To say that Mary is just the mother of Christ or Christotokos rather than the Mother of God goes against the logic that Mary bore Christ into this world fully in being, giving birth to Jesus Christ, her Son, both God and Man, and she could not have just borne Christ the Man without also bearing His divinity. To imply in any way that Mary is not the Mother of God also in truth denies Christ’s unique two natures united in one person as the true, orthodox faith of the Apostles had always held.
Therefore the debate surrounding the dogma of Theotokos or the Mary as the Mother of God was truly serious as it affected the nature of Christ and His salvation, as heresies of that time had threatened to break the Church apart, with some contending that by Nestorius’ proposition, only Jesus the Man suffered and died on the Cross as God could not have suffered or died, contrary to the true teaching of the faith. This was brought about by the disagreement over the nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity which extends to whether Mary was the Mother of God or just the Mother of Christ.
We may think again that these disagreements may sound trivial and small in importance, but we must really understand and appreciate that the faith as we know it today came about only after many rounds of challenges, divisions, disagreements and heresies trying to misled members of the faithful throughout the long history of the Church, including this disagreement on the Theotokos or Mary as the Mother of God.
During those especially early critical years of the Church, many heresies came about because of the existence of many divergent schools of thought and idea that often disagreed on each other on the nature of Christ’s divinity, on whether His humanity and divinity are united inseparably, or separate into two different and disunited existence, or whether as what we hold in our true faith, that His humanity and divinity exists, though distinct, but united perfectly in the one person of Jesus.
The bitter divisions and divergence in the teachings were threatening the unity of the Church and the salvation of many souls, and that was why, the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, beginning with the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and eventually to the one we focus on today, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, began codifying and underlining the true and fundamental truths and orthodoxy in faith which we preserve in the Church until today.
Eventually, the supporters of Nestorius lost and the heresy was officially condemned in the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus which made canon and officially declared Mary as Theotokos, the Mother of God. And we rejoice today because of this great blessing which God has bestowed on us all through His mother, the very Mother of God so many of us Christians for ages have entrusted ourselves and devoted ourselves to.
Imagine, brothers and sisters in Christ, how we have the Mother of God herself as our greatest intercessor, as the one who constantly loves us and cares for us, that she, who sits closest to her Son’s throne in heaven, always constantly intercedes for our sake. And being the Mother of God, therefore, it means that she is truly honoured, just as how the kings of Israel and Judah of old honoured their mothers.
We devote ourselves to Mary and ask her for her intercession because we know that through Mary, we have the surest and most direct path to her Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God Himself entrusted His mother Mary to us from the Cross, when He entrusted her to the care of His disciple, St. John, representing us the Universal Church, and then also entrusted him, again representing the Church, to Mary, His mother.
That is why Mary was always present throughout the history of the Church, in her many apparitions, several of which have been officially approved by the Church, especially appearing at the important juncture in our history and in moments of great darkness, calling on us mankind to turn back towards her Son and to repent from our many sins and evils. And we have to be thankful for the love that she has shown us, the same love with which she loved her Son from all her loving heart.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we also look up to Mary as our greatest role model, for her great faith and obedience to the will of God throughout her life. We should imitate her example and faith, dedicating ourselves to God through her and by following her inspiring dedication, in giving her whole self to serve the Lord and to glorify Him in all things. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters?
Today, we are also called to keep in mind peace in our world, as today we also mark the World Day of Prayer for Peace, as we begin this new year with a new hope for the whole world for the cessation of conflict and wars, which have brought the worst out of us mankind, causing untold sufferings and destructions. All these wars, conflicts and disagreements, just like the disagreements we just went through in detail earlier on the nature of Mary as the Mother of God, are caused by man’s pride and greed.
As long as we allow ourselves to be swayed by ego and pride, ambition and greed, to be tempted by the many temptations found in this world, listening to the lies and corrupt teachings championed by the devil and his allies and supporters, there will always be divisions, conflicts, sufferings and trials in our world. And this is where, by following Mary and devoting ourselves to her, to imitate her faith and examples, we can break the unending chain of suffering and conflicts.
Let us all ask for Mary to intercede for us, for the Church and for the world, that through her intercession, God may bring His peace into this world, for He is the Prince of Peace promised to us all. And let us all get rid from ourselves all sorts of ego, of pride, of hubris and ambition, of greed and desires, and instead, put God once again at the centre of our lives and make Him the reason of our existence in this world.
May God continue to bless us, bless His Church and bless this world He has created and provided for us. May His mother Mary, Theotokos, the Mother of God also continue to inspire us all His faithful ones, that we may follow in her footsteps and draw ever closer to her Son, Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.