I recently read an account of the importance of Mary’s title “Theotokos” in a book called Steward of the Mysteries, by Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Church. He pointed out that in Eastern iconography, as a rule, Mary is portrayed with her Son. Her importance is in relation to Him. Just as She gave flesh to Christ, we are called to give flesh to the mystical body of Christ, the Church, when we go out into the world. (emphasis added)I think this is not only a good rule but one that is in keeping with the very words of the Blessed Virgin in the Magnificat. The direction of her words we so often sing accords with this rubric of iconography. Her importance is in relation to Him. That ought to be something any Lutheran (except an inconoclast) would joyfully affirm. My soul rejoices in God my Savior. Would that we learned from her this important truth. In an age of individualism when so many insist upon drawing all attention to themselves, Mary, the Mother of our Lord, does just the opposite. She points us to Him who is the fruit of her womb. Elizabeth recognized this as well and rejoiced that the mother of her Lord would come to visit her!
The title “Theotokos”, the use of which was dogmatically ratified by the Council of Ephesus in 431, is very often translated as “God-bearer” or “Mother of God.” She was both, but this word means something distinct, I have been told - one who “bore and gave birth to God.” Any saint might be referred to as a God-bearer too, “theophoros”, as each of us is called to bear God in a spiritual, moral and virtuous sense, and by this, our flesh is informed and transformed by Christ. Mary is a “theophoros” too, but only she is Theotokos. She bore God in a physical sense, and gave birth to Him; Her flesh formed Christ’s.
Even those who get all nervous and upset when the name of Blessed Mary is mentioned ought to be comforted that we look upon her in relation to her Son. In this we are not imposing anything upon her that she does not impose upon herself. Of course, art that depicts the Annunciation may appear to violate this rule but look at the context -- it is not an image of Blessed Mary alone but the Virgin to whom the Archangel announces her role and place in the salvation history of God's people.