Wise orators stand mute as fish.

Book cover for "The Orthodox Church" by John Anthony McGuckin

The Orthodox Church

NOTE: The following is an excerpt of Fr. John Anthony McGuckin’s book “The Orthodox Church”. I highly recommend it.


…This is only a brief argument using scriptural indications to speak about historical tradition soberly received and reverently passed on. It will hardly convince a generation of so-called historical scholars who have mutilated the scriptural record they set out to comment on, using the premise that ‘nothing unusual can happen in the world, that is not entirely explicable by reference to things that are usual’: and thus ‘explaining’ the Virgin birth for their readership as a ‘magical’ explaining away of an illegitimate birth. But the Akathist hymn gave a good response to this in ancient times:

Wise orators stand mute as fish before you Theotokos; for they are unable to explain how you could remain a virgin and yet give birth. But we who marvel at the mystery of faith can cry out to you: All hail, you who are the chosen vessel of God.

The Virgin Mary stands not only as a Christological bulwark, epitomizing the ultimate ‘scandal of our faith’ that if she is called the Theotokos, her Son must be confessed as divine (God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, as the Creed has it). But in many ways she is a ‘Bronze Gate’ in a contemporary world abounding in reductionist and faithless exegesis. She who treasured all these stories and tales of wonder about her Son in her heart, as the evangelist tells us, is still one who refuses to allow the sacred kerygma of the Gospel to be watered down and made palatable to the tastes and conceptions of those who are far from being deeply rooted i the strange and paradoxical ways of a God who, with the world’s salvation in the balance, chose a simple and innocent heart which was ready to say to him: ‘Let it be done in me, as I am your servant. The choice of an unmarried first-century Jewish woman from a rural backwater was a contradiction of the ‘wisdom of this world’, and still is. It is perhaps why theological reflection on the Theotokos (so prevalent and powerful in the early church) has fallen into relative silence today.

McGuckin, John Anthony. The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.