On the Ever Virginity of the Mother of God

From “A Narrative of the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, Compiled from the Divine Gospel, the Holy Fathers, and Other Trustworthy Sources” (Dec. 25)

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints
Forever after giving birth she remained a virgin pure and incorrupt, as all the great Fathers teach with a single voice.

Rising from sleep, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord instructed him. He remained with his espoused wife, the spotless Maiden who had dedicated her virginity to the Lord, Whose Mother she would become, having conceived the Saviour of the world by the Holy Spirit. Joseph showed her the love due an espoused wife, treated her with the honor belonging to a virgin consecrated to God, and served her with the fear and reverence owed the Mother of the Master. And he knew her not till she had brought forth, that is he never knew her as a wife, according to Theophylact. How could he, being a righteous man, touch her who was taken from the Lord’s Temple and entrusted to him, not so that he could share with her the bed of marriage, but in order that he might guard her chastity by pretending to be her husband? How could he touch a virgin who had vowed to God her purity forever? How could he dare to approach the most pure Mother of his God and Creator? As for the phrase till she had brought forth, we should understand that till is being used in a sense commonly employed in the Scriptures, meaning, “until the moment indicated, and ever after it.” Thus David says, The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit Thou at My right hand, till I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet. (Ps. 109) The meaning here is not that the Lord God the Son will only sit at the right hand of the Lord God the Father until the Father makes the Son’s adversaries the footstool of His feet, and then no longer. Rather, after His enemies are made the footstool of His feet, God the Son, as Conqueror, will reign with even greater glory unto all ages, sitting at the right hand of the Father. Similarly, when it says that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth, (Matt. 1) no implication is made to the effect that he did know her after, as say certain heretics, foes of the Orthodox Church. Having seen her bear a son Who was God incarnate and witnessed the miracles that occurred at the Nativity, Joseph could not even think of touching the Virgin; instead, his reverence for her increased more and more, and he served her with fear and trembling, as a servant would his mistress.

This is what Saint Theophylact writes concerning the use of the word till in the passage under discussion: “Till here does not mean that before the birth he did not know her and afterwards he did, but that he absolutely never knew her. The Scriptures commonly employ the word in this manner. For example, the raven released by Noah returned not unto the ark till the water had dried off from the earth, (Gen. 18) but neither did it return after the water had dried off. Again, Christ says, I am with you always, even till the end of the world. (Matt. 28) So then, will He no longer be with the saints after the end? But how can that be? At that time He will be with them more than ever. 

Therefore, you must understand the words, till she brought forth (Matt. 1) to mean that neither before the birth nor after did Joseph know her. How, indeed, could he have touched the most pure Virgin after he witnessed her giving birth ineffably?

Earlier, it was said that when Joseph was being buffeted by a storm of doubts concerning the Virgin’s pregnancy, the angel appeared and referred to Mary as his wife: Fear not, he said, to take unto thee Mary thy wife, thereby dispelling Joseph’s doubts. After the Nativity, however, the same angel appeared in Bethlehem and Egypt, on neither occasion referring to the immaculate Maiden Mary as Joseph’s wife, but rather as the Mother of the Child, thus clearly indicating that the most pure Theotokos remained a virgin after bringing forth her Son. The Scriptures say, “And when the wise men departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His Mother, and flee into Egypt,” (Matt. 2) showing that Providence ordained not that Joseph should be husband to Mary, but her servant and the servant of her Child. Joseph not only did not know Mary as a wife before she brought forth her firstborn Son, but thereafter as well. Forever after giving birth she remained a virgin pure and incorrupt, as all the great Fathers teach with a single voice.

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

This offering of the famous Russian collection of Lives of the Saints by Saint Demetrius of Rostov (1651-1709) marks the first time any of these national collections have been published in their entirety in the English language.