, , , , ,

One of the most stunning claims made by St. Gregory Palamas in the second paragraph of Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior is that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ without any labor pains:

He is born without suffering, as He was conceived without passion, for as His mother was shown to be above the pleasure of passion when she conceived, so she is above grievous pains when she gives birth.

He quotes Isaiah 66:7 as his proof:

Before the pain of travail came upon her, she escaped it.

This is what I love about reading the Fathers. They have a relationship and a knowledge of Scripture that puts modern man to shame. Whenever I encounter a short verse like this, the cynical modern man in me wants to believe that it is taken out of context from some obscure section of the OT, and will most probably have nothing to do with (in this case) the virgin birth.

Fortunately, I have experienced this before and I never cease to be amazed at how I always find myself re-reading Scripture with new eyes when I follow the Fathers of the Church down these apparent rabbit holes. Reading Isaiah 66 from the perspective of our Most Holy Lady the Theotkos and Virgin Mary, is like taking light to a diamond — it reveals its stunning beauty. Take for example, the opening verses:

Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word. — Isaiah 66:1-2

Modern biblical scholars will tell you that these verses are merely about the temple; however, we are fresh from the the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple where the Church declares:

The Savior’s most pure and immaculate temple, the very precious bridal chamber and Virgin, who is the sacred treasure of the glory of God, on this day is introduced into the House of the Lord, and with herself she brings the grace in the divine Spirit. She is extolled by the Angels of God. A heavenly tabernacle is she! Kontakion of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

In other words, St. Gregory has not taken Isaiah 66:7 out of context. He knows very well that the Church understands that the verse, and the verses around it, are speaking of the Virgin Mary.

Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: Your own people who hate you and reject you for my name’s sake have said, “Let the Lord be glorified, so that we may see your joy”; but it is they who shall be put to shame. Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, dealing retribution to his enemies! Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her — that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. — Isaiah 66:5-11