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Why do we call Mary the living tabernacle?


Platytera by Orthodox Master Iconographer Elias Damianakis. (

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By the grace conveyed in her Immaculate Conception, celebrated annually on December 8th, the one who was to become the living tabernacle was prepared from birth for the greatest role a human being would play in the salvation history. 

Later on, her 'fiat' or acceptance in trust and obedience set a chain of events leading to the Incarnation of the Wisdom of God.

For the Old Testament tabernacle, God commanded very specific and demanding preparations, purifications, rituals, and sacrifices.  Within that tabernacle were contained the holiest and most sacred items -the gold jar with manna, the budding rod or staff of Aaron the priest, and the tablets of the covenant with the ten commandments engraved.  

Similarly, by the grace of God, Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin -Immaculate Conception- in her mother's womb in preparation for her role as a living tabernacle, just as the Old Testament tabernacle had been sanctified to contain the holy items of the covenant -the Manna from Heaven, the Priestly Staff and the Law of the Covenant.

Gregorian Chant Benedictinos

Though the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, the tradition of celebrating Mary's conception within St. Anne as a holy one is ancient.  While the Holy Orthodox do not hold the Immaculate Conception as a dogma, their Liturgical Tradition contains the same principle.  In fact, according to Mariology by Juniper B. Carol O.F.M., the Oriental Church is believed to be the first to institute the conception of Mary as a Feast, as included by St. Andrew of Crete [660-740 A.D.] in a historical document of the feast.  Eventually, this tradition became popular in the West as well.

Young Mary, once she had accepted God's offer through the Archangel Gabriel, was 'overshadowed' by the Holy Spirit, Who once again brought forth Life [this time with 'L' rather than 'l']. At this moment, Mary became the living tabernacle -holding within her: the holiest and most sacred living Manna from Heaven, the High Priest and Shepherd, and the Law of the New Covenant -Jesus Himself.  

The Body and Blood that would save us, was first hers.  Out of her body and her blood, the Savior took His and became fully Man. The Incarnation became fully Man out of her alone, within her virginity, without a human father. Within her, as a living tabernacle, the Messiah -Emmanuel- was living among us.  

Once again, the Father was pleased, as He had been upon the birth of the first man, though even more, for this time, His Wisdom was Incarnate to live among us and to redeem us back into relationship with the Father.

One of the Orthodox icons of the Theotokos -the 'God-bearer'- is the Panagia -the 'All-holy'- Platytera. Mary is portrayed pregnant and facing directly with her hands in the 'orans' position as in prayer.  Within her womb, the image of the Christ Child is usually contained within a medallion, as if she contained the Maker of the Universe within her womb, which is 'Platytera ton ouranon' or 'more spacious than the heavens.'  

Platytera Icon Elias Damianakis

In Holy Orthodox churches, this image is sometimes placed in the apse above the altar. The image is sometimes called 'Virgin of the Sign' or 'Our Lady of the Sign' referring to Isaiah 7:14, which states:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.

In regards to Mary, He sanctified her at least just as much as He sanctified the temple where He preached His Wisdom, or the waters of the river where He was baptized, or dirt cave of the Holy Sepulchre out of which He arose in the Resurrection.  By grace, all which enveloped Him became transformed and sanctified, especially the 'living tabernacle' - His mother.

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  • Joshua Massatt 5 years ago

    You chose really good pictures to illustrate this point :).

    Great article!

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    umm u still didnt answer the question