The character of St. Mary the mother of God, Theotokos, possesses a great value and insight into the mystery of the Incarnation. We do not realize the mystery and the opportunity for blessings until we comprehend the meaning of the unity between the divine nature and human nature in the womb of St. Mary. The prophets of the Old Testament, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tried to focus on the mystery of incarnation. They described St. Mary by different names and titles, or by very accurate prophecies fulfilled only by her, or by symbols referring to her. During the Sunday praises the “Theotokia”, there are many symbols mentioned. The first of many marvelous symbols is the Tabernacle and its contents which Moses made according to Gods order.
The Tabernacle of Meeting:
It was the dwelling place of God among His people, as He said to Moses, “I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God” (Exud29:45). The tabernacle was a symbol of St. Mary. God dwelt in St. Mary as He dwelt in the tabernacle. The Lord God dwelled in her, according to the words of the Archangel, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk1:35). The theotokia Sunday praises says, “They likened it to you, O Virgin Mary, the true Tabernacle, wherein dwelt God”.
Concerning the difficulty of understanding the mystery of the incarnation we see the cloud covering the Tabernacle of Meeting as the glory of God filled it preventing Moses from entering into it (Exud40:34,35). The theotokia exclaims, “Who can speak of the honor of the Tabernacle which Moses had made on Mount Sinai?! He made it with glory as commanded by the Lord, according to the patterns shown unto him”.
The Holy of Holies:
It was the most holy place, not only into the Tabernacle, but on earth. No one was able to enter it except the high priest, who once a year offered up the sacrifice of blood on his hands. This sacrifice represented the blood of Christ which He offered once on the cross for our salvation obtaining for us eternal redemption (Heb9:11, 12).
The Holy of Holies represents the holiness of Virgin Mary which exceeded that of all mankind. The Lord God dwelt in her womb and was delivered from her body, while her virginity remained intact. All people called her blessed. Once again, there is a reference in the Theotokia praises that says “You are called righteous, O St. Mary the second Tabernacle, belonging to the Holies. Wherein is placed the rod of Aaron and the holy flower of the incense. You are filled with purity, within and without, O pure Tabernacle, the dwelling of the saints. The hosts of the high standings and the chorus of the just glorify you and your blessedness”.
Through this experience, St. Mary demonstrates a good example of maintaining the body as holy and pure by separating herself from sin and devoting her heart to God.
The Ark of Covenant:
It was made of wood that would not decay, and overlaid with pure gold from the inside and out (Exudes 25:10, 11; Heb9:4). This un-decaying wood represents St. Mary’s purity which never decayed or spoiled. The gold within was a symbol of the Divinity, the incarnate Word of God, that dwelt inside her womb. The Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. In a similar manner, this illustrates that all the gifts we receive are not necessarily a literal material gift such as wood but rather figuratively represents heavenly gifts. Every gift has a more meaningful explanation that extends far beyond the obvious. Thus, purity is a divine gift as a result of dwelling in the presence of God.
The Ark of Covenant is mentioned in the Theotokia praises as follows: They made an ark of wood that would not decay, overlaid with gold within and without. You too O Mary are clothed with the glory of the Divinity within and without”.
The golden cover, which is called the “Mercy Set”, with two cherubim of gold on its ends, which rests on the ark (Exud25:17-21), represents the presence of Christ in St. Mary’s womb. The Angels surrounded her to praise Him in her womb. At the same time, the ark also contained the two tablets of the commandments, the written word of God. So, it represents the dwelling of the incarnate Word of God in her womb.
This symbol depicts the great care that God has for us. He covers us with His care to protect us that the sun shall not strike us by day nor the moon by night (Ps121:6).
The theotokia praises says, “The Mercy Seat was overshadowed by the forged Cherubim from all sides which was a symbol of God the Word, who was incarnate of you without change, O undefiled. You too O Mary, thousands of thousands, and myriads of myriads (of angels) overshadow you praising their Creator, who was in your womb, and took our likeness without sin or alteration”.
The Pot of Manna:
It contained the Manna, the only food for the Israelites in their journey into Sinai. That Pot was kept in the Ark of Covenant along with the two tablets and the rod of Aaron (Exud16:4, 33). If the Lord Himself is the Rational Manna who descended from heaven, who gives life (Jhn6:48-57), then the golden pot carrying the Manna represents St. Mary. The praises of Theotokia says, “You are the pot made of pure gold wherein was hidden the true Manna. The bread of life which came down from heaven gave life unto the world. You too O Mary have carried in your womb the rational Manna that came from the Father.
In addition to that, St. Mary was not merely a pot, but she gave to the Lord, who was incarnate from her, a body from her own flesh. The praises continue: “You bore Him without blemish. He gave unto us His honored body and blood and we lived forever”. If that golden pot was honored in the Old Testament because the Manna was put into it, therefore St. Mary received great honor because she gave Christ, her Son, His body; and because she carried the true Manna to give Him to us.