Monday 26 August 2013

Orthodox roots [part 2]

According to tradition, Bishops on their way to the Council of Ephesus convened at the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Mellieħa. Whether the Malta visit happened before or after Ephesus is unclear, but documentary evidence in the form of a stone fragments and more importantly, the iconography of the Sanctuary, affirms the tradition (Figure 1).

The third ecumenical council held in Ephesus in A.D. 431, was an attempt to retain doctrinal boundaries set by earlier councils whose integrity was being threatened by the teachings of NestoriusPatriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius proclaimed that the Blessed Virgin should be titled Christotokos ("she who has begotten Christ") rather than Theotokos ("she who has begotten God"); the latter being a term that had begun to be used by Egyptian Christians in the third century. The Bishops met in June and July A.D. 431 at the Church of Mary in Ephesus in Anatolia and subsequently declared Mary Mother of God [1].

In a letter published in L'Osservatore Romano on 4 December 1996, Pope John Paul II (who incidentally prayed at the Sanctuary in May 1990, see Figure 9), shines light on the chronos of Marian dogma:
In the first Christian community, as the disciples became more aware that Jesus is the Son of God, it became ever clearer that Mary is the Theotókos, the Mother of God. This is a title which does not appear explicitly in the Gospel texts, but in them the "Mother of Jesus" is mentioned and it is affirmed that Jesus is God (Jn 20:28; cf. 5:18; 10:30, 33). Mary is in any case presented as the Mother of Emmanuel, which means "God with us" (cf. Mt 1:22-23).[1]
In the bema of the Sanctuary, four unsigned paintings thought to date back to the 18th Century celebrate the life of Mary as she appears in scripture.

Figure 1: Convening Bishops on domed roof above the Ascension (left) 
and Marriage (right) of Our Lady.

Figure 2: The Marriage of Our Lady and Saint Joseph with High Priest in 
attendance. Joseph's rod blossoms [2]

Figure 3: The Annunciation, oil on canvas

Figure 4: The Ascension of  Our Lady, oil on canvas

Figure 5: The Nativity, oil on canvas

Walking in the footsteps of his 5th Century predecessors, Pope John Paul II prayed at the Sanctuary (Figure 9) and celebrated mass in the open square outside its entrance. He visited other places in Malta and Gozo, during the first Papal visit on 25th-27th May 1990.

From the Sanctuary's museum.

Figure 6: John Paul II visit to Malta
on the 25th to 27th May 1990. 
Shown here is the design motif of 
the"Holy Spirit Symbol" and 
"Spirals" signed by Richard 

Figure 7: Papal stole with design
motifs by Richard England.
Figure 8: Design of Papal podium by Richard England.

Figure 9: Blessed John Paul II prays 
beneath the icon of Our Lady 
and Sts Michael and Gabriel

Kairos scenes at the Sanctuary.
  Figure 9: Holy Communion and a Wedding

Figure 10: A nun clears the conciliar 
Altar after mass


[1] CHURCH PROCLAIMS MARY MOTHER OF GOD by Pope John Paul II (accessed 27th August 2013)

[2] Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (accessed 27th August 2013)

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