“Hail, Mary, Full of Grace,” – the Cause of All Things

vasnetsovvirginI treasure the small volume of George Gabriel,  Mary the Untrodden Portal of God. Gabriel occasionally strikes hard at the West and the book would perhaps be strengthened with a less combative approach to the differences of East and West in the faith (my own opinion), but I liked the book and found Gabriel addressing many things, well foot-noted, that are not found in many other places. I share an excerpt.


From eternity, God provided for a communion with His creation that would remain forever. In that communion mankind would attain to the eternal theosis for which it was made. The communion, of course, is the Incarnation through the Ever-Virgin. Mankind’s existence and, therefore, that of all creation is inexorably tied to Mary because she was always to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. The fathers say that neither the course of human events nor necessity of any kind forced the Uncreated One to join to Himself a creaturely mode of existence. God did not become flesh because some actions of the devil or of man made it necessary, but because it was the divine plan and mystery from before the ages. Despite the works of Satan and the coming of sin into the world, the eternal will of God was undeterred, and it moved forward.

History and the course of human events were the occasion and not the cause of the Incarnation. The Incarnation did not take place for the Crucifixion; the Crucifixion took place so the Incarnation and the eternal communion of God and man could be fulfilled despite Satan, sin, and death. Explaining that there was no necessity in God the Father that required the death of His Son, St. Gregory the Theologian says the Father “neither asked for Him nor demanded Him, but accepts [His death] on account of the economy [of the Incarnation] and because mankind must be sanctified by the humanity of God.” St. Gregory is telling us that, from before the ages, it was the divine will for mankind to be sanctified and made immortal by communion with the humanity of the Incarnate God, but corruptibility and death came and stood in the way.  By His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed these obstacles and saved, that is, preserved, mankind for the Incarnation’s eternal communion of the God-Man and immortal men. St. John of Damascus repreats the same idea that the Incarnation is a prior and indeed ontological purpose in itself, and that redemption is the means to that end. Thus, he says the Holy Virgin “came to serve in the salvation of the world so that the ancient will of God for the Incarnation of the Word and our own theosis may be fulfilled through her.”

It seems worthwhile to me, for us to meditate on the fullness of our salvation which is to be accomplished in God’s great Pascha. Indeed, it seems to me that everything always was about Pascha – the “Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth” (Rev. 13:8) We are approaching the end of all things – and, I should add, their beginning as well.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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23 responses to ““Hail, Mary, Full of Grace,” – the Cause of All Things”

  1. EPG Avatar

    Thank you for this, Father. Often, in the West, it seems like the Incarnation is treated as an afterthought, or a lifeline thrown to address an unexpected disaster. There was an Episcopal priest, Robert F. Capon, who wrote some things not unlike the argument advanced in this excerpt. I suspect that Capon also read St. Gregory. In some things, Capon was fairly odd, but, looking back on his books, I think he paved the way for some of my receptiveness to threads in Orthodoxy. Capon also wrote about beauty, especially in ordinary things, and so your immediately previous most made me think of him.

  2. Alyssa Przystawik Avatar
    Alyssa Przystawik

    Thank you, Father! This reminder to let go of the Western idea that the main reason God became incarnate was to deal with our sin is much needed. Old (thinking) habits die hard, unfortunately!

    Happy Feast! S Praznikom!

  3. Silouan Avatar

    Her importance and role in creation is foreshadowed in Genesis 1:2 – “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”.

    Then fully revealed with the announcement of creation’s renewal in Luke 1:35 “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

  4. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    EPG when we recite the creed in the west we bow when we say “and by the Holy Spirit “he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man” except on the feast of the Annunciation and Christmas day when we kneel. We have been praying the Angelus around the clock for over 800 years. In the traditional Latin mass the priest recites John Chapter 1 at the end of each mass and everyone genuflects when he says “and the word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Then there’s the rosary which has been prayed for over 800 years which consists of the angelic salutation. I don’t know hat else we could do.

  5. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    As in the Latin mass so in the Western Antiochian rite. I was for 18 years attending a Western rite parish and now that I am attending an Eastern rite parish I still want to genuflect during at that point in the creed.

  6. Ray Avatar

    Pope Francis received a gift- an icon of Our Lady of Humility from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. He gave it as a gift to Pope Benedict. We now have a Patriarch and two Popes connected by a gift of Mary– Our lady of Humility.

  7. Jeremy Avatar

    Wow, that was a deep post. It certainly challenges so many things I grew up thinking. I will meditate on that some more.

  8. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    I would like to get a copy of Mary:The Untrodden Portal of God. When I looked online the price was between $150 and $450. Yikes!! Do you know of a cheaper source?

  9. […] “Hail Mary, Full of Grace”: The Cause of All Things – GtGFAT (OX) […]

  10. Old Toad Avatar
    Old Toad

    Archangels Books and STS Press both list it for $20.95. New copies, too.

  11. Dante Aligheri Avatar
    Dante Aligheri

    Thank you for the reflective post, Father. It really puts me in the right frame of mind.

    EPG, as a Catholic, I must agree with you that sometimes in the West among both Catholics and Protestants this does often seem the case unfortunately. In the Middle Ages, this was the primary position of the Dominicans and St. Thomas Aquinas.

    I will say that one possibility which St. Thomas Aquinas did entertain was the possibility that the Devil fell due to prescient revelation that mankind would enter the divine life through the Incarnation and rejected such an act as unbecoming of God. This idea derives from an older Jewish belief that the Devil refused to recognize the Image of God in Adam and so fell.

    I am happy to say, however, that the Dominican position was not the only one in the West. The Franciscans and Bl. John Duns Scotus reasserted the primacy of the Incarnation as the act of the Lamb “slain from the beginning.” Specifically, for Bl. John Duns Scotus, the Incarnation was the recapitulation of Creation into the perfect and divinizing Love of Jesus Christ towards the Father just as humans are the “mediators” between Creation and God, i.e., priestly.

    Blessed Pascha.

  12. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Dante I have to agree with you. Aquinas has turned out to be quite an embarrassment for the Catholic church.

  13. Dante Aligheri Avatar
    Dante Aligheri

    Well, I don’t know if I would say he was an embarrassment. On the contrary, I think he did a lot of good for the Church. However, what I get tired of is a tendency to treat St. Thomas Aquinas as if he is everything – the literal end-all of theology – and the Fathers are only incomplete footnotes.

    The bellowing Ox is one voice among the many religious and philosophical thinkers in the medieval Church of the West and an even smaller voice when when placed with the Fathers of the East and West to whom he was heir, however incompletely due to historical circumstances.

    Truth is, he was hardly accepted during his own time period and certainly did not speak with the universal authority he did later on.

  14. EPG Avatar

    Leonard and Dante. Thank you both. I know little of Aquinas, and precious little of much else. I was thinking of what I perceive as a trend among certain strains of Evangelical Protestantism. Listen to some of them, and you get the impression that God (the Father) was incredibly P/O’d and ready to chuck it all, when Jesus (the Son) came up with this really nifty plan of substitutionary atonement to get the Father off of our back.

    But then again, some Evangelicals speak as though God the Father and Jesus (the Son) were two very different Persons, and as though they’ve never heard of (much less digested) the Nicene Creed.

  15. Dante Aligheri Avatar
    Dante Aligheri

    I know what you mean. Unfortunately, this seems to be a prevailing distortion among many Christians. I think your last part is also spot on – a tendency among “some” Christians to so radically separate Jesus from God the Father so as to oppose them in an act of punitive sacrifice. And this is what permits Richard Dawkins to call God a “bad parent” to put it mildly.

    I really hope I didn’t seem to derail the comments.

    God Bless.

  16. PJ Avatar


    “Dante I have to agree with you. Aquinas has turned out to be quite an embarrassment for the Catholic church.”

    This is preposterous. I can’t imagine you have spent any serious amount of time studying the Thomistic corpus.

  17. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    thanx for the info. Just ordered from archangels books

  18. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    PJ I’m a secular Dominican. The group I belong to is The Dominican sisters of St Cecilia in Nashville. I’m just trying to fit in and get along.

  19. Laura Avatar

    Father, can you explain your final paragraph. You say “it seems to me everything was always about Pascha,” but the excerpt seems to be saying that everything was always about the incarnation. Often in the West we think the plan was for the crucifixion and incarnation was an afterthought, but Gabriel says rather (unless I’m misreading) the plan was for the incarnation, and the crucifixion was an afterthought. I suppose I think of Pascha being tied to the crucifixion, but perhaps you’re saying Pascha is necessarily tied to the incarnation?

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    St. Gregory is telling us that, from before the ages, it was the divine will for mankind to be sanctified and made immortal by communion with the humanity of the Incarnate God, but corruptibility and death came and stood in the way.

    It is in sharing that communion in repentance and humility that we can begin to know what it means to be human. A humanity Mary realized fully by the birthgiving.

    Unfortunately, as long as one is outside it is quite difficult to see one’s falleness as anything other than the norm and the height.

    Once the step is taken, however falteringly, the reality begins to be revealed and even in the midst of great personal loss, the transcendent beauty, glory and joy can be touched, or rather, He touches us.

    Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
    Isaiah 53:3-5

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. The Incarnation, the Cross, the Descent into Hades, the Resurrection, the Ascension, etc. – they are all Christ’s Pascha. Christ’s Pascha is His uniting Himself to us that we might be united to Him. The longer I am Orthodox, the more I see that there is only one Feast. We talk about it many ways.

    The Scriptures, for example, describe even Christ’s birth with the image of Paschal. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, born in a cave, even as He is wrapped in fine linen and buried in a tomb, etc. All is Pascha.

    Christ’s becoming man is itself a sort of descent into Hades, for it is a union with our broken condition. It is healed in Him (a Pascha). Thus His Incarnation and Birth are a death and rising. His Baptism is specifically a Pascha, a death and rising, etc. Pascha reveals everything, for everything is Pascha. God begins His creation with, “Let there be light!” Which is the light of Pascha in some manner. The overshadowing of the waters by the Spirit is the overshadowing of Mary by the Spirit. Everything finds its true meaning in the light of Christ’s Pascha.

  22. Laura Avatar

    Thank you, Father!

  23. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar

    It never dawned on me until today, but could one of the reasons why Mary was selected to be the Mother of God at such a young age was so that she could still be relatively youthful and active after His resurrection?

    I’m just thinking out loud, obviously.

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