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Choral Corner #25: What does the word "Theotokos" mean?

Theotokos is a Greek word that means “bearer of God” * or “she who bore/gave birth to God”. There is no single-word English cognate; in our language, we frequently also refer to the Virgin as the Mother of God, but this phrase has a different Greek equivalent: ΜητηρΘεου, the abbreviation of which frequently appears in icons of the


The use of the term Theotokos in reference to the Virgin Mary began in the first centuries of the Church, and was officially adopted at the Third Œcumenical Council, held at Ephesus in 431, as a direct refutation of the Nestorian heresy. The Nestorians referred to the Virgin as “Christotokos” — “she who gave birth to Christ (in His humanity)”, implying that Christ not only has two natures (which He indeed does), but that His Personhood was somehow

divided. Orthodoxy proclaims that Christ’s divine and human natures are united in one Person, or Hypostasis, of the Consubstantial Trinity. Consequently, the Holy Virgin — despite her status as a created being and not co-eternal with God or existing before Him — nevertheless truly gave birth to the Incarnate Lord, who was, is and always shall

be both God and Man.

*NOTE: We also ascribe the descriptor “God-bearer” to certain saints, such as Righteous Symeon, the Holy Hieromartyr Ignatius of Antioch and St. George the Recluse, but this has a different Greek root: Theophoros (Θεοφορος), which does not imply birthgiving.

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