VoL 5, No 1

On the Virgin Birth and the New Teaching 
of St. Vladimir's Seminary

          Orthodox Christians must not confuse the virginal conception with the virgin birth of our Lord. The Church commemorates the first on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, and the second nine months later, on December 25. Like all conceptions and births, they are two separate events.
         The Scriptures, the Creeds, the liturgical texts, the Holy Fathers, and all of Holy Tradition witnesses to the fact that our Lord had a virgin birth, i.e., no blood, no afterbirth, no breaking of the seal. This is what the Orthodox Church means by "virgin birth." It does not refer to the conception without a man, but refers precisely to the birth itself.

          For without seed He took flesh of a Virgin and rose from the tomb, without breaking the seal of either.

 Akathist Hymn to Our Lord Jesus Christ
Having kept the seals intact, O Christ, Thou didst arise from the tomb, O Thou Who didst not break the seal of the virgin by Thy birth; and Thou hast opened unto us the gates of Paradise.
Sixth Ode of the Paschal Canon 

          These are but two texts of many that could be quoted. One wonders, then, at the new teaching coming forth from the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, my former professor, Fr. Thomas Hopko: 

          ...Although the Church insists that Mary remains forever a virgin, the only miracle in regard to the Lord's birth is the virginal conception There is no teaching of any other sort of miracle in regard to His birth; certainly no idea that he came forth from His mother without opening her womb.

Winter Pascha, by Thomas Hopko, St. Vladimir 's Seminary Press, p. 1 75

          What are we to make of the Akathist Hymn: Without breaking seal of either (womb or tomb), and of the Paschal Canon: Having kept the seals intact (of womb and tomb), and of all the other liturgical and patristic texts which witness to this truth?

          Is it not true that "Orthodox" theologians through their involvement in the ecumenical movement have begun to think like the non-Orthodox? Of course, most [of those] involved in this movement do not accept the Virgin Birth, and the few who do accept it equate it precisely with the virginal conception, without distinguishing it from the Virgin Birth. Consequently, even Orthodox are talking about the Virgin Birth when what they really mean is the virginal conception.

          Those who use the icon of the Nativity which portrays the washing of the infant as a proof that there is "... certainly no idea that He came forth from His mother without opening her womb" forget our Lord’s  baptism at the hands of John: Suffer it to be so now, or thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him (Matt. 3:15). Without the need to be washed in baptism, so was our Lord washed, "Who didst not break the seal of the Virgin by Thy birth.

          May He Who did not break the seal of either the womb or the tomb grant you a Blessed Nativity and a Joyous New Year!

         Least worthy of priests,

Father David Belden