"Theotokos"

Quite a bit of ink is spilled (or bandwidth used) over just how to translate Theotokos from Greek into other languages. “Mother of God,” “Mater Dei,” “Birthgiver of God,” “Deigenitrix,” “Deipara,” “God-bearer,” etc. Neologism has its place in this history: the word was rendered into Slavonic by a similar one-word compound, Bogoroditsa. To do the same in English would produce Godbirthgiver. While that kind of compounding might work in German, it doesn’t quite carry in English. And in Orthodox speech, “God-bearer” is problematic because it may also render theoforos, a title of many (other) Saints, most famously, St. Ignatius of Antioch just celebrated…who obviously did not give birth to God! Which brings us to my suggestion: that we not be afraid to occasionally translate Theotokos phrasally, “(she) who gave birth to God.”

(Why not “Mother of God”? Because mother does not necessarily convey giving birth, as most adoptees will tell you. And Mary definitely did not adopt the Lord! Most users of the phrase “Mother of God” mean this, but clarity is best. Orthodoxy isn’t completely averse to the expression, as indicated by nearly all icons of herself – the Greek letters “MP THU” – short for Meter tou Theou – with which they are captioned – and in some hymns and prayers. But when we’re talking about giving birth, we say giving birth! And we almost always make reference to The Giving Birth – so in a sense every day is Christmas for prayerful Orthodox!!!)

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