Updated: Aug 5, 2020
There are over 500 titles which are attributed to the Virgin Mary in the Orthodox Church. Yep, that’s a lot of titles! One may be thinking, where do these titles come from? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most well known.
For over two thousand years our Orthodox Church has honoured the Virgin Mary as the universal Mother - the Mother of all humankind. The Virgin Mary is held in such high esteem that she is considered the model of all Christians. Her perfect humility, unwavering obedience to God, and her spiritual purity are qualities which we look towards, and aim to emulate. It is also these qualities which explain the many titles attributed to her in her honour.
Perhaps the most common and most formal title would be the “Theotokos”, literally translates to “God-bearer”. “Theotokos” implies that Mary’s Son is both full man and fully God. In giving birth to Christ, Mary was the source of Christ’s human nature. Yet, her role in God’s plan of salvation meant the One she bore in her womb was also the eternal God. Whilst the Theotokos is the most formal title given to honour the Virgin Mary, there are many other less formal titles or “nicknames” that we call her also.
A nickname often communicates a sense of familiarity or endearment to someone close to us. The same applies to our relationship with the Virgin Mary. Our fondness and closeness to her person are most commonly expressed through the nickname, “Panagia”, or “the Most Holy among the saints”.
However, Panagia has many other nicknames. Our church’s tradition tells us some nicknames may have been derived through the revelation of a vision, or a miracle of the Theotokos. Other nicknames may come from the pictorial representation of the Theotokos in icons, while, others highlight her special qualities, such as “Panagia the Directress”, “Panagia Swift to Hear”, “Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow”, “Mother of Tender Feeling”, “Mother of Unexpected Joy”, “Surety of Sinners”, and many more.
Other nicknames may be derived from the place of where Panagia’s Holy and Miraculous icons originated, such as “Panagia of Yellow Rock” icon at St George Monastery in NSW, or “Panagia of Soumela”.
Many icons of our All-Holy Mother have been given various titles. One of the most well known would be “Panagia Axion Estin or ”'It is Truly Meet”. This name is given to the icon of the Virgin Mary before which, according to tradition, the hymn of Axion Estin was revealed. “Panagia Portaitissa” or “Keeper of the Gate” is another, which according to tradition, is a wonderworking icon which was painted by the Apostle and Evangelist Saint Luke.
We pray to Panagia as our Mother and entreat her affectionately by using any of these names. Our Bishop Emilianos of Meloa puts it beautifully; She is One and Her Grace is One, but her names are many.
Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
“Calling out to our Mother” by Fr Matthew Swehla
NSW University Fellowship talk, “ The Theotokos” by Bishop Emilianos