Mary of Nazareth was born around the year 14 BC in present-day Israel. From her womb would come the incarnate Logos, who would change the course of human history forever. For this, she is glorified among all women.
We also know that she spoke Aramaic and was anywhere between 12 and 14 years old at the time of the Annunciation.
But how much do we really know about her as a human being?
We see many icons of the Mother of Gods, but do we know what she actually looked like? We read the Gospel and find out about her life, but can we guess what she was like?
Let us try to answer these questions by diving a little bit deeper into the life of our beloved Theotokos as well as some historical and cultural aspects.
Ancient icons of the Virgin Mary
The earliest depictions of the Virgin Mary date back to the third century AD. In Orthodoxy, we have different icons of the Mother of God, many of which are wonderworking. If we look at some of them, we can notice that Mary looks completely different in each one.
An icon must not be a perfect representation of what a certain saint looked like. It is especially true with the saints, who lived in the first centuries AD because it is impossible to find out about their physical appearance. Regardless of that, the Orthodox have always wanted to venerate these saints by painting their icons.
The people of modern-day Eastern Europe would often depict the Virgin Mary as a blond-haired and blue-eyed woman because of their cultural context. People could identify with such an image and relate to it more. On the other hand, the Orthodox believers from Egypt would depict the Theotokos as a dark-skinned lady with black hair for the same reasons.
But can we guess what The Mother of God actually looked like?
We know that Mary was a Jewish girl living in Nazareth. According to many kinds of research and DNA testing, the closest descendants of the Jews living on that territory are modern-day people of Lebanon and Iraq. However, she could have had blood, mixed with that of the people of Egypt and Africa in general.
This tells us that she most probably had brown or olive skin, as well as dark hair and eyes, just like the people of the Middle-Eastern ethnicity nowadays. We also know that at that time people were generally shorter than the average human height today, This means that Mary could be anywhere from 145 to 155 cm (4.7 to 5 ft) tall.
Icon "Protectress of the Roman People" – 5th century
Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, who saw the Virgin Mary, left us a description of her: "Her whole appearance testifies that she is indeed the Mother of God."
According to Tradition, that from the compiler of Church history Nicephorus Callistus (fourteenth century), the Mother of God “was of average stature, or as others suggest, slightly more than average; Her hair golden in appearance; Her eyes bright with pupils like shiny olives; Her eyebrows strong in character and moderately dark, Her nose pronounced and Her mouth vibrant bespeaking sweet speech; Her face was neither round nor angular, but somewhat oblong; the palm of Her hands and fingers were longish…
In conversation with others She preserved decorum, neither becoming silly nor agitated, and indeed especially never angry; without artifice, and direct, She was not overly concerned about Herself, and far from pampering Herself, She was distinctly full of humility. Regarding the clothing which She wore, She was satisfied to have natural colors, which even now is evidenced by Her holy head-covering. Suffice it to say, a special grace attended all Her actions.”
Mary is somebody that we can really learn from. There are so many qualities that she had, so many wonderful characteristics she exhibited. Here are just some of them:
4 Characteristics of the Virgin Mary:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Only a person of great faith could trust God so much to say that.
She was so faithful to the Lord, that she stood and watched her own Son being crucified because she believed in God's promise. It was probably torture for her as a Mother, but she had the strength to believe that this was necessary in order to save mankind and have victory over death.
"How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34)
She knew that people would notice that she was pregnant and would ask her questions. She knew that she would probably have to explain what had happened to Joseph, her husband. But she was courageous enough to say yes anyway.
One of the biggest lessons that we can learn from Mary’s story, is that God took an ordinary girl from the city of Nazareth and called her to do an extraordinary thing.
The same is true for us. God takes us, ordinary people, and invites us to become extraordinary by doing extraordinary things. Sometimes there are things that we may not have wished on ourselves, but, by doing them and going through changes, we become better.
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