Mary, Virgin

Mary, Virgin. The mother of Jesus. Her stature as a Christian cult figure is second only to that of Christ. She has been venerated since apostolic times. Images of her first appeared in the 2nd century, and shrines in her honor were built from the 5th century and named in commemoration of particular events in her life, such as the Annunciation, Assumption (Dormition), Birth, and Presentation at the Temple. The doctrinal recognition of Mary as the Theotokos or Mother of God was finally defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Other dogmatic titles were applied to her throughout the early church period, including the Most Holy Virgin, the Ever-Virgin, the Lady, the Protectress of All Christians, the Immaculate, the Pneumatophora (Carrier of the Holy Spirit), and the Triadophora (Carrier of the Trinity).

In the Eastern Christian church her role as the mother of God has always been the main focus of her cult. Her cult was particularly promoted in the East by Saints Ephrem the Syrian, John of Damascus, and Andrew of Crete, and Saint John Chrysostom's theology was revived and popularized in Ukraine in the 17th century by Metropolitan Petro Mohyla. In the Western church the Mary cult has emphasized her virginity. The major theological differences persisting between the Eastern and Western churches today concern the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (declared a dogma by Pius IX in 1854) and the Assumption (declared a dogma by Pius XII in 1950), which are not accepted as dogmas in the East. The liturgical veneration of Mary is an older tradition in the East than in the West, and is seen in various prayers, canons, and supplications and especially in Hymnos Akathistos. The personal cult of Mary was condemned by the reformers of the 16th century and is not practiced in most non-Catholic Western churches.

The great popularity of the cult of Mary has left its mark on Ukrainian literature, beginning with the apocryphal tales of Kyivan Rus’—such as the ‘Knyha rozhdestva Divy-Mariï’ (The Book of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary), ‘Khozhdeniie Bohorodytsi po mukakh’ (The Mother of God's Journey through Agony), and ‘Son Bohorodytsi’ (The Mother of God's Dream)—and continuing through the works of Ioanikii Galiatovsky, Lazar Baranovych, Antin Radyvylovsky, Dymytrii Tuptalo, Ioan Maksymovych, Taras Shevchenko, Yurii Fedkovych, and Pavlo Tychyna. The motif of Mary has an important place in oral tradition as well, especially in incantations, carols, hymns, and various other pious folk songs, some of which are of pre-Christian origin and were adapted to Marian devotion. It has also been reflected in toponymy: Bohorodytsia (Mother of God) in the Kholm region, Bohorodchany in Galicia, and Bohorodychne in Kharkiv oblast are among the many place-names associated with her. Even plants have been named after her (eg, Bohorodchyna kosa ‘the Braid of the Mother of God’).

Accounts of miracles associated with Mary abound. The early chronicles attribute the defeat of the Cumans in the 12th century to her intervention, in retribution for their destruction of the Church of the Tithes in Kyiv. The account of her appearance at the Pochaiv Monastery, when she intervened to save the monastery during a Turkish and Tatar attack in the late 17th century, is especially popular and has been immortalized in the famous song ‘Oi ziishla zoria vecherovaia’ (Lo, the Evening Star Ascended). Over two hundred miraculous icons of Mary, held in churches in Kyiv, Korsun, Kholm, Dobromyl, Hoshiv, Sambir, Zhovkva, Zarvanytsia, and elsewhere, have attracted pilgrims for centuries. The icons of Mary (of Byzantine origin) in the Pochaiv Monastery and in Częstochowa, Poland (brought from Byzantium during the reign of Volodymyr the Great to Belz in Western Ukraine, and then taken in 1382 to Poland), and the Vyshhorod (Vladimir) Theotokos are the most famous icons of her. In addition to icons depicting Mary with the infant Christ, popular images of her in Ukrainian iconography are of the deesis, or her adoration, with Saint John, of Jesus on the heavenly throne, and of Mary the Protectress. One of the oldest images of Mary in Ukraine is the mosaic Oranta in the main apse of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.

Holidays in Mary's honor occupy an important place in the church calendar; they include the Annunciation (25 March), the Dormition (15 August), the Nativity of Mary (8 September), and the Presentation at the Temple (21 November). In Ukraine, 14 October (1 October OS) is the day of Mary the Protectress. This holiday, which gained great popularity among the Zaporozhian Cossacks, is almost a national celebration (it was not celebrated in the Byzantine church).

Many significant churches and chapels in Ukraine were dedicated to Mary, including the Dormition Cathedral of the Kyivan Cave Monastery; the Church of the Tithes; and churches in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Halych, Kholm, Lviv, Chernihiv, and elsewhere.

In the Ukrainian Catholic church, Marian societies have been particularly active in preserving and furthering the cult of Mary.

Kondakov, N. Ikonografiia Bogomateri, 2 vols (Saint Petersburg 1914–15)
Gordillo, M. Mariologia Orientalis (Rome 1954)
Gharib, G. La Madonna nell'anno liturgico bizantino (Rome 1972)
Beinert, W.; Petri, H. Handbuch der Marienkunde (Regensburg 1984)

Ivan Korovytsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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