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Theotokos Virgin! You are a virgin and a lover of virginity. You are pure and a lover of purity. If we purify our mind with the body, we shall possess your grace. You shun all impurity and impure passions.  You look upon all sin as death-inflicting rejoicing in all good.
Although only a recent dogma proclaimed by Pius IX in 1854 belief in Mary being born without original sin has been a pious custom from the earliest years of the Church, especially after the Council of Ephesus in 431 which gave her the title of Theotokos, "Mother of God". 

       Mary is often seen as the second Eve. Where the first Eve succumbed to temptation and disobeying God Mary did not. Her purity has always been upheld by the Church Fathers. Ambrose who was one of the first Fathers to change emphasis on Mary's role from the model of obedience to a model of virginity described her in a sermon (22) as "incorrupt, a virgin immune through grace from every stain of sin".
      The Syrian Fathers never tired of extolling the sinlessness of Mary. For example St. Ephrem considered no terms of eulogy too high to describe the excellence of Mary's grace and sanctity. She was as innocent as Eve before her fall, a virgin most estranged from every stain of sin, more holy than the Seraphim, the sealed fountain of the Holy Ghost, the pure seed of God, ever in body and in mind intact and immaculate:  Ephrem described her as:
    Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity ..., 
alone made in thy entirety the home of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit, and hence exceeding beyond all compare even the angelic virtues in purity and sanctity of soul and body . . . . 
my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all-inviolate spotless robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone most immaculate.

       John Damascene, whose day we celebrate just four days before this feast of Our Lady preached many beautiful sermons on Mary. Here are some extracts to honour Our Lady on this feast day.
      O people of Christ, let us acclaim her to-day in sacred song, acknowledge our own good fortune and proclaim it. Let us honour her in nocturnal vigil; let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for she next to God surpasses all in purity. It is natural for similar things to glory in each other. Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor. For if mercy is the best worship of God, who will refuse to show His Mother devotion in the same way? She opened to us the unspeakable abyss of God's love for us. Through her the old enmity against the Creator is destroyed. Through her our reconciliation with Him is strengthened, peace and grace are given to us, men are the companions of angels, and we, who were in dishonour, are made the children of God. From her we have plucked the fruit of life. From her we have received the seed of immortality. She is the channel of all our goods. In her God was man and man was God. What more marvellous or more blessed? Let our souls rejoice in the Ark of God, and the walls of Jericho will yield, I mean the fortresses of the enemy. Let us dance in spirit with David; to-day the Ark of God is at rest. With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed."

     It is fitting that we should exalt her who is above all created things, governing them as Mother of the God who is their Creator, Lord, and Master. It is as if a man were to bring a violet of royal purple out of season, or a fragrant rose with buds of different hues, or some rich fruit of autumn to a mighty potentate who is divinely appointed to rule over men. He does not look at the smallness of the offering, or at its novelty so much as he admires the good intention, and with reason. So we, in our winter of poverty bring garlands to our Queen, and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise.

      Let us reverently stand in the house of God, and let us sing: Hail, Queen of the universe! Hail, Mary, the Lady of us all! Hail, only immaculate one, most beautiful among women! Hail, vessel who have contained the everlasting perfume that was poured into you! Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. 

     Hail, eternal Virgin, dove in whom Mercy was born! Hail, pride of every saint, and crown of every martyr! Hail, divine beauty of the just, salvation unto all of us the faithful! Now and always and for ever and ever. Amen. 
Marianne Dorman