Notes on the Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos

Some Protestants react very strongly to the idea that Mary, the Theotokos, remained a virgin for her entire life. While this claim is rather mundane in light of other claims the Church makes about her, such as the claim that she miraculously conceived a child without seed, and the claim that she carried God Himself in her womb, some people are highly invested in it not being true. If you are one of those people, probably nothing I write here will change your mind in the least. However, these notes may help you understand why millions of Orthodox Christians affirm her perpetual virginity.

First, we should note that there is no verse anywhere in the Protestant 66-book canon of Scripture that explicitly states that Mary did or did not have sexual intercourse after the birth of Christ. However, there are verses in the Protestant canon that do have implications on the question. Probably the most obvious of these is Matthew 1:25, which explicitly states that Mary remained a virgin up to the point of giving birth to Christ. “But he knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (ESV). While the verse does not make any explicit statement about what happened after the birth of Christ, most English-speakers would find it to be a reasonable inference—absent any other information—that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Christ. I am not an expert on Greek, and I cannot say whether that inference would seem as natural to a Greek-speaking reader of the 1st or 2nd century as it does to an English-speaker today.

There are also several verses that refer to siblings of Jesus. Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Mark 6:3, Luke 8: 19-21, John 2:12, John 7:3-10, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19. All of these refer to brothers, sisters, or both of Christ. Again, most English-speakers would find the implication that Mary had other children after Christ reasonable. When this was the extent of my knowledge on the subject, I assumed that Mary had other children after Christ, and therefore did not remain a virgin after his birth. However, I was never highly invested in this belief. It was just an assumption, based on implications, and wasn’t really something I thought much about.

The verse that made me reconsider some of these assumptions was Ezekiel 44:2: “And the Lord said to me, ‘This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore is shall remain shut’” (ESV). This verse is in the context of Ezekiel’s vision. My first response to the verse was that was not talking about Mary. However, I was aware of that Christ continually referenced Ezekiel by referring to himself as the “Son of Man,” a title taken directly from Ezekiel. I had also accepted by this point that the entire Old Testament existed to point to Christ, and that prophecies and visions in the Old Testament especially so. So the question was, what did this saying in Ezekiel’s vision reveal about Christ? What else could this be a type of? I tried just taking the verse in Ezekiel as literally as possible—it only meant that an actual gate on the actual City of Jerusalem was to remain closed, because God had entered through it. But then the obvious question was, if God felt so strongly about a gate through which He entered a City, how would He feel about a gate through which He entered humanity?

Returning the earlier verses, I realized that when I read Jesus’ statement “I am with with you always, to the end of the age,” in Matthew 28:20, I did not feel that it necessarily implied that Jesus would not be with us always after the end of the age. In light of Ezekiel 44:2, I no longer felt that Matthew 1:25 implied that Mary did not remain a virgin. However, this left the question of the brothers/sisters of Christ.

The primary written source for the claim that Mary was perpetually a virgin is the Protoevangelion of James, which scholars say was written in the Second Century (for comparison, they also say the Gospel of Luke was written in the Second Century). Orthodox Tradition is that it was written by James, the Brother of the Lord, just as Orthodox Tradition is that Luke was actually written by Luke. Regardless of one’s beliefs about the authorship of the Protoevangelion of James, the claim made in the Protoevangelion about the brothers of Jesus is that they were older children born to Joseph from a previous marriage. This immediately made sense to me, as when we talk about Joseph, the prime minister of Egypt, we say that he had 11 brothers, when he only had 1 full brother, Benjamin. While Joseph of Nazareth was not biologically the father of Jesus, he is referred to as Jesus’ father in Scripture (Luke 2:48), so it makes sense that Joseph’s sons would also be called Jesus’ brothers.

Because I was not strongly invested in maintaining a narrative that Mary had sexual intercourse at some point in her life, this evidence was enough to convince me that Orthodox claim of perpetual virginity was reasonable. Later, when I accepted that the Orthodox Church was what it said it was, I became Orthodox, and thus accepted the teaching of the Church on the matter.

I should also note that even if the scholars are right, and the Protoevangelion of James was written in the mid-to-late Second Century, there would still have been many people alive who had been trained in the faith by the apostles, and who even met the Theotokos. These are the people who made the choice to preserve this book rather than anathematize it.

One final thought. Some Protestants have described as “poorly written fan fiction” the story in the Protoevangelion of James of a midwife attempting to check the Theotokos for a hymen after the birth of Christ and having her hand burst into flame. Considering the Biblical statement that there are many true stories about Christ that are not recorded in Scripture (John 21:25), I am not sure on what basis they write this story off as fiction. Do they also write off the story of Moses’ hand turning leprous (Exodus 4:6)? Of the earth swallowing Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16)? Of the fire from heaven consuming the drenched sacrifice of Elijah (1 Kings 18)? I will write more later about my own experience surrounding miracles not documented in Scripture.

Hopefully these notes help create a greater understanding of the Orthodox teaching on the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Frugal Friday: Mead

There are many people who go all out on fancy equipment and supplies for brewing mead, but humans have been brewing mead with primitive equipment for thousands of years. I found this basic, foolproof mead recipe online years ago, although I cannot now find the site I found it on. It makes a very enjoyable mead with no equipment and very little cost. I will also mention a few variations that you can do, although I recommend starting with the basic recipe.

Shopping List:

  • One gallon jug of spring water
  • 2-3 lbs local, raw honey
  • 1 snack box of organic raisins (you may have to buy a pack of several snack boxes)
  • 1 pouch bread yeast (or 1 Tb of bread yeast if you already have some)
  • 1 balloon (you may have to buy a bag of several)

Instructions:

Open the spring water. Pour out 12oz of water (1.5 cups) for each lb of honey. Pour the honey, yeast, and raisins directly into the jug of water (a funnel helps). Cap the jug and shake vigorously. Poke a pinhole in the top of the balloon. Uncap the jug, and stretch the opening of the balloon over the mouth of the jug. Set somewhere to ferment.

After a day or two, your balloon should stand up. after 10-14 days, the balloon should flop back over. When this happens, take the balloon off, recap the jug, and shake vigorously. Replace the balloon. The balloon may stand up again. If so, wait another day or two after it flops over again, and then pour your mead into glass bottles or jars. You can use a coffee filter or cheesecloth to strain out the raisins and yeast, although most of the yeast will have settled to the bottom and can be avoiding by pouring gently and not fully emptying the jug. Seal the bottles. You may taste the mead at this point, although it will taste significantly better after conditioning in the bottle for 6 months to a year. The website I got this recipe from said that it gets even better if you condition longer, but I have never been able to let it go past a year.

Variations:

  1. Use the dregs from your homemade cider in the place of the bread yeast
  2. Use the apple peel method that I recommend for cider in place of bread yeast
  3. Add a cinnamon stick or two, a clove, and a star anise–Or whatever else you want to try
  4. Use only 1-1.5 lbs honey, pour out an additional 2 quarts of water, and add 2 quarts of apple or other fruit juice.

Let me know how you like your results!

A Must-Read Comic

I don’t know that I’ve ever recommended a comic before, but this one has definitely earned it. Read it here.

How Can You Discuss Liberalism in America Today?

Earlier today, Audible recommended to me through its algorithms the book Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick Deneen. I’d never heard of the book or its author before, so I did what I usually do when Audible recommends a book to me: I read the one-star reviews. Reviewers’ biggest issue with the book, it seemed, revolved around the definition of liberalism. Just from reading the one-star reviews, it is clear that Deneen’s critique of liberalism would include modern American Republicans and self-styled “conservatives,” who are of course squarely within the Lockean school of liberalism. Yet these reviewers clearly did not consider Republicans/”conservatives” as a subset within liberalism, but as somehow opposed to liberalism. The fact that these reviewers are wrong is immaterial–they are expressing the common understanding. In light of this, how does one actually go about discussing liberalism in America today? In a two party system where both parties draw their ideology from liberalism, the larger ideology of liberalism has largely become invisible. Is there a way to discuss liberalism in America today, or has it become so ingrained, so taken for granted, that it has become impossible to discuss, critique, or evaluate?

On “Making a Difference”

Not long ago, I read somewhere of a conversation between the author and his brother regarding monks. I’ve tried every search term I can think of to find it, but no luck so far. As I recall, the brother told the author that he admired the acetic discipline of the monks, but asked what difference all that prayer and fasting did if there was no one to see it or be inspired by it.

There seems to be an idea that virtue only “makes a difference” if it is seen. If you live a life of virtue, and it is seen by many, and causes some of them to live lives of virtue, that has value. But (in this view) if you live a life of virtue as a hermit, unseen by the world, that life of virtue has less value somehow. This idea is simply not true, as the example of St. Mary of Egypt should illustrate.

The life of St. Mary should also illustrate that God can take a life of virtue lived in complete anonymity, and not only make it public, but inspire millions with it if He so chooses.

This mistaken idea is probably particularly dangerous to those of us that have blogs or social media accounts. These mediums can provide us with a seductive possibility of “making an impact” by sounding a trumpet when we give alms or do other things that we should be doing.

Back when I had a Facebook account, there was a time when I got tired of arguing with people on every post I made. So I started posting pictures of cathedrals instead of words. People will argue with words, even when they are crafted with more skill than I posses. Yet beauty bypasses the level of argument to strike directly at the level of experiential knowledge. Unfortunately, when we seek to spread virtue by sounding trumpets before us on blogs or social media, we are detracting from the beauty inherent in virtue, and thus making virtue less attractive to those around us. On the other hand, if we can let go of the idea of “making a difference” and focus on our own repentance, on building virtue in our lives, the beauty of that virtue will shine out through us.

Writing helps me to organize my thoughts, but I know better than to see this blog as my avenue to making a difference. Any difference made through this blog will only be as a direct result of my own repentance.

5 Years

Once again, the blog has been neglected for months. The main reason for this is the amount of time and energy that I’ve had to focus on the final capstone project for a degree I’ve been steadily chipping away at the requirements of for the past eight years. The final project, the culmination of both an intense 16-week class and the whole 8-year journey, has been submitted and now I have only to await a grade. Hopefully, once I catch up some on the many projects around the house that have also been put off due to the class, I will be able to write more. But tonight it is raining, so I have an excuse for writing rather than working on one of my many projects waiting outside.

I didn’t even write the week of my birthday, which is very unusual. This year my birthday came and went with much less reflection on life and goals than typical. Of course, that week an important assignment was due for my capstone project, so my focus was not on the birthday. Now that I have time to think and look back, it amazes me how much has changed from my birthday five years ago to my birthday this year.

On my birthday in 2015, I had not yet met Courtney. Now, not only are we married, but we have three children and a fourth on the way. In 2015, I had never yet stepped foot in an Orthodox Church, yet today I am the father of cradle Orthodox children. In 2015, I rented a room in a 2-bedroom condo. Since then I bought a house, sold it at a profit, and bought another house with more land. In 2015, I had never killed, gutted, skinned, or butchered a deer. Now I am asked to teach others these skills. In 2015, the management of the condos where I rented a room prevented me from growing a few vegetables. This year, we have a separate garden just for potatoes and onions.

In 2015, I was almost ready to give up on having a family. Five years made an incredible difference. Over the next five years, I hope to build further on the foundation established over the past five. I hope to move us closer and closer to self-sufficiency. I still need to get much better at fishing, to establish more gardens, and possibly move again to a larger property where we can have some farm animals, along with countless other projects. I hope to document this journey here.

Hopefully, the next update in this journey will be soon.

Finally! A Footwear Solution for Women and Children

The challenge when it comes to men’s footwear is deciding which of the many excellent Made in the USA boots to buy. The challenge for women’s and children’s footwear is the opposite. While a few of the companies that makes men’s boots also make some women’s boots, with the notable exception of Red Wing’s Clara (which is very pricey), these are simply sized down men’s boots, and not at all feminine. The options that are actually made for women (excepting boots for equestrian purposes) tend to be shoddily made of pleather or cloth. And Courtney likes to wear flats, which seem to be ubiquitously made out of cheap fabric.

Elgin’s first boots

Boys boots are no better. When Elgin was little, he would refuse to wear shoes. We finally got him to wear shoes when we bought a pair of work boots for him at Sears. They looked good at first, but were pleather and he managed to wear them out before outgrowing them despite how fast he was growing. He went through a few more pairs of those boots, because he would actually wear them, and we eventually found that he would wear rubber boots (or as he calls them “poop boots”) as well. And so, for the last few years, Courtney and Elgin have worn footwear that rather quickly deteriorated. Edna fared better–she was passed down a pair of crocs that seemed to wear quite well, and she wore them until she grew out of them. Crocs seems like a good play shoe for her, but as she’s gotten older I’ve become less comfortable with her wearing them for church on Sunday, or on other more “dressy” occasions.

Elgin’s boots
Edna’s shoes are just like Mommy’s

Well, it seems that we’ve finally found a solution. Courtney came across a company called Adelisa & Co. that sells women’s and children’s shoes that are handmade in Nicaragua out of genuine leather. While I would prefer to buy Made in the USA, handmade in Nicaragua is much better in my opinion than machine made in China. The leather is relatively thin, which makes the shoes and boots softer. Edna wore her shoes to bed the first night or two after she got them. Elgin has been wearing his boots every day, and they have not seemed to need a breaking in like thicker leather boots typically do.

If you’ve been looking for a better solution for women’s and children’s footwear, give Adelisa & Co. a try. Prices are reasonable, with Courtney’s shoes at $65, Edna’s at $45, and Elgin’s boots at $55. They have a variety of other styles available as well, including a simple Oxford that looks equally good on boys and girls.

Major Purchase: Sausage Stuffer / Cheese Press

I took advantage of a Mother’s Day sale to buy some kitchen equipment for Courtney. Courtney started making homemade cheese not long after Elgin was born, but has been limited by lack of a cheese press, which is necessary for certain cheeses. Because of the lack of a press, Courtney has been mostly limited to mozzarella. Mozzarella is delicious, but in the interest of expanding varieties I’ve been looking for a good, quality cheese press for some time now. Most cheese presses on the market are unable to be used for anything else, large, clunky, not particularly good looking, and not cheap.

Eventually, I settled on a cheese press made by LEM, which can either be purchased as a complete unit, or as an adapter for a 5 lb sausage stuffer. Originally, I was planning on buying the complete unit, but as we’ve moved further into self-sufficiency, we’ve started to have large amounts of ground venison on hand. Also, over the past year, Courtney has experimented with making homemade bologna, shaping it in a bread pan rather than a sausage casing. During Lent, she even made some homemade vegetarian hot dogs, which she rolled and cut in order to shape. So, with the Mother’s Day sale, I decided to buy the 5lb sausage stuffer and the cheese press adapter. Total cost with shipping was $275. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some results from its use soon.

Resource Update + Teasers

I’ve added some links under the resources page, and added more categories to keep everything streamlined. Blogs are now divided into categories, mirroring those for books except for the elimination of the fiction worth reading category and the addition of a technology category. The new technology category has 2 new resources, Low-Tech Magazine and No Tech Magazine. These are related blogs/webmagazines that deal with some of the problems of modern technology and low-tech solutions to common problems–interesting and inspiring reading.

I’ve also added a podcast page to the resources. I’m not a huge podcast guy, and the only podcasts I listen to are about Orthodoxy, so I didn’t bother adding categories for podcasts. I’ve included three excellent resources here. The first is Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation, which host a wealth of talks, lectures, and homilies by Metropolitan +JONAH. I recently finished the series on contemplative prayer, and learned a lot in the process. The other two, The Arena and From the Amvon, feature homilies by Fr. Josiah Trenham and Fr. John Whiteford respectively.

Now for the teasers: 3 potential new resources! I recently ordered shoes for my wife and oldest daughter, and boots for my son, from a new company I’ve run across. For awhile now I’ve been frustrated, because while its fairly easy to find made in the USA from genuine full-grain US leather boots for men, I’ve found nothing similar for women or children–until now. I’m waiting to inspect the product, but I may have found the solution to cheap, shoddy shoes for women and children.

Second, I’ve been in touch with a friend from high school who has an extensive background in vegetable farming, including intensive production. He is starting a garden mentorship program in which he helps you with all things garden. Layout, varieties, pest problems, all this and more! Unfortunately, the program does not have any current openings, but I have asked him to let me post here when new openings are available, which will likely be this fall or next spring. You, my readers, will be the first to know when the program is available.

Finally, I’ve been in touch with a different friend from high school, who is in the beginning stages of a business selling fabric. If you’re like us, you buy fabric for kid’s clothes at least twice a year, and I always try to get enough for Courtney to make one or two new dresses for herself every year too. My friend is working on getting some USA made natural fibers, and I’ll post a write-up here when that’s a reality. In the meantime, she does have imported flannel available, so If you are further north than us here in Wisconsin, or want to start your fall outfits early, message me and I’ll get you the information.