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Theotokos of Vladimirtempera on panel, 104 x 69 cm, painted about 1130 in Constantinople (Wiki2.org.)


  • the Eastern Church
  • the Western Church

In Eastern or Orthodox Churches, the Western Church’s Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, is called the Theotokos, a Greek word meaning literally the “Birth-Giver of God.” Moreover, in Orthodox Churches, also called the Byzantine Rite, the Theotokos has always been portrayed in the same way. In the Western Church, depictions of Mary differ from artist to artist and from art movement to art movement. The Western Church has paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary, but the Theotokos is an icon.

The Theotokos

The image at the top of this post shows a very precious icon, the Theotokos of Vladimir. It is a Byzantine icon of the Virgin and Child dating to the Kormenian period and predating the Fall of Constantinople, on 29 May 1453, the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire, further dividing the Eastern and Western Churches, which separated in 1054. Byzantine icons survived the Great Schism.


Our Lady of Kazan, a 16th-century copy (Yelokhovo Cathedral, Moscow)

The Theotokos of Vladimir was painted in Constantinople and resembles the Theotokos of Kazan. The Theotokos of Kazan is a copy, the original was likely destroyed 1904, but I would call it archetypal. It was likely painted in or about 1131 and was a gift from the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople to Grand Duke Yury Dolgorukiy of Kyiv. The Icon was housed in Mezhyhirskyi Monastery. But the Theotokos of Vladimir was stolen when Andrei Bogolyubsky sacked Kyiv, in 1169. It was taken to Vladimir, a medieval capital of Russia located two hundred kilometers east of Moscow. (See Theotokos of Vladimir, Wiki2.org.)

The Theotokos is regarded as the holy protectress of Russia.” The Theotokos of Vladimir is now housed in a functioning church in the Tretyakov Gallery, in Moscow. (See Theotokos of Vladimir, Wiki2.org.) Vladimir’s Theotokos is described as iconography of the Eleusa (tenderness). Such icons of the Theotokos show Jesus “cuddling up” to his mother.

The Great Schism of 1054

  • the Original Sin
  • the Immaculate Conception
  • Saint Augustine

East and West remained united despite several disputes, but these culminated in the  Great Schism of 1054. The East-West Schism involves many issues, such as the Trinity. God is one but in three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases. However, we will focus on one dispute: the Immaculate Conception

In 1054, the Eastern Church rejected the Immaculate Conception. According to Augustine of Hippo (13 November 354 – 28 August 430 CE), a revered father of the Church, humans were born guilty of the Original Sin. They were tainted until Baptism.

However, Mary, the mother of the Redeemer could not be born stained. She had to be born free of the Original Sin. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia,

[t]he formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her [Mary’s] soul. Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin.

(See The Immaculate Conception, The Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Mary was not “exempt from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death,” but she was redeemed through the same merits of Christ.

The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism.

The Eastern Church  rejected the rather convoluted Immaculate Conception.


The Immaculate Conception was indeed difficult to accept. Yet, this doctrine was not dogmatically defined in the Catholic Church until 1854 when Pope Pius IX, declared ex cathedra, i.e., using papal infallibility, in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, the Immaculate Conception to be doctrine. (See Immaculate Conception, Wiki2.org.)

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

(See Ineffabilis Deus, Wiki2.org.)

Not only does the Eastern Church reject the Immaculate Conception, but it also rejects papal infallibility. In the Eastern Church, the Theotokos falls asleep, which is called the Dormition of the Mother of God. But, on 1 November 1950, in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus DeusPope Pius XII used papal infallibility to make the Assumption of the Virgin Mary a dogma.

The Immaculate Conception is celebrated on 8 December in the Western Church and 9 December, in the Eastern Church. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on 15 August in both the Western and Eastern Churches, but 15 August is August 28, N.S. for those following the Julian Calendar.


Would that I could conclude this post appropriately. The Parables of Jesus of Nazareth and Mariology are favourite topics. Dogmas are not.

Eastern Orthodox concepts of Mary have been mostly expressed in liturgy and are not subject to a central dogmatic teaching office.

(See Mariology, Wiki2.org.)

But the debate is over. “In 1965, Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras I  nullified the anathemas of 1054 although this nullification of measures taken against a few individuals was essentially a goodwill gesture and did not constitute any sort of reunion.” (See East-West Schism, Wiki2.org.)

It may be that this nullifaction was a “goodwill gesture,” but there were genuine benefits to this goodwill gesture. Basically, East or West, a Christian is a Christian. The Theotokos of Vladimir is in the Tretyakov Gallery, in a functioning church.  It cannot go out of style.

I read a sentence, the source of which is Britannica, but cannot find again. However, it read that “[t]he Byzantine heritage survived … mainly because the Orthodox church showed an astonishing internal strength and a remarkable administrative flexibility.” The eastern church has Synods, each of which is autonomous, rather than one Holy See. (See Autocephaly, Wiki2.org.)

However, what led me to investigate the Immaculate Conception and, in the process, mention the Assumption, is the extraordinary spirituality of Russia’s liturgical music. It shows “astonishing internal strength.”


Love to everyone 💕


© Micheline Walker
12 January 2019