The Theology of Gender – 6. The New Eve
The honor and respect of Christianity to women is demonstrated especially in the person of the Theotokos. She is the human closest to God; after Christ, she is the most beloved and honored person by men and God. She has a great place in worship and is most beloved to the Fathers who wrote extensively about her. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite affirms that the whole world was created for the person of the Theotokos, and that she was created for Christ. In addition, God would have been pleased by the Theotokos alone, even if the whole of creation had become evil and rebelled against God. The Theotokos is she who: “divinized the human race and brought the earth to the heavens and, on the one hand, made God the son of man and, on the other hand, made people the sons of God as she conceived within herself without seed and ineffably brought forth Him who created all things out of nothing and Him who transforms all things to well being and does not allow them to fall back into nothingness.”
God did not let His beloved creatures feel hopeless after their exile from Paradise. Along with punishment, He offered hope through His promise of the birth of Christ by the Theotokos, by what was said to the serpent:”I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; it will bruise your head and you will strike its heel”. This prophecy is considered the first “good news” to alleviate the pain of exile from Paradise, and expresses the messianic expectation that is fulfilled through the person of the Theotokos.
In Orthodox theology, the typological relation between Christ and Adam is paralleled by that of Eve and the Theotokos. Christ, through His Incarnation, recapitulated all of humanity in its original state as was intended by God’s will from the beginning. He became the New Adam through whom the new generation of humans was born. However, this new creation presupposed the breaking of the shackles of Eve’s disobedience which was brought about through the Theotokos’ obedience (ὑπακοή).
The distinctive role of the person of the Theotokos in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity is the source for the empirical, typological symbolism according to which the liturgical function of women in the plan of divine οἰκονομία is parallel to the work of the Holy Spirit, while the liturgical function of the male is parallel to that of Christ. This does not mean that Orthodox theology tried to ascribe to the Holy Spirit gender characteristics as Russian theological thinking did. On the contrary, the typological relation between the Theotokos and the Holy Spirit is based on the synergy of both in the plan of God’s οἰκονομία. Through the Holy Spirit, the Theotokos became the “temple” of God and type (prototype) of the Church, since the motherhood of the Church and the motherhood of the Theotokos function through the energy of the Holy Spirit.
The Theotokos assists humanity in her Son’s work of salvation. She intercedes for all, because on the Cross He entrusted to her all humankind in the person of his beloved disciple John. She became the spiritual mother of all people as Eve was the physical mother of all humans.
The person of the Theotokos is the most profound example of the recognition of woman’s value in Christian thinking. In his homily on the Nativity, St. Gregory the Theologian affirms that through the birth of Christ from the Theotokos without man’s “help,” Eve pays back her debt to Adam, because Eve was taken from the rib of Adam. From then on, man and woman are equal. However, equality does not mean the lack of distinctive roles and functions of the genders in all aspects of spiritual and social life.
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