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Presbytera Athanasia Papademetriou: On The Virgin Mary and Pascha

By on May 10, 2024

By Dean Papademetriou

As Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha, Presbytera Athanasia Papademetriou reflects on the place of the Virgin Mary at the Resurrection of her son, Jesus Christ.

Presbytera Papademetriou thought deeply about this subject while writing her book, The Virgin Mary In Holy Icons and Stories (Somerset Hall Press). This gorgeously-produced book with full-color icons provides details of the life of the Virgin Mary, also called the Panagia or Theotokos, and how she was present in the life of her son, Jesus Christ. It describes the variations of the icons of the Virgin Mary such as the Hodegetria and the Glykophiloussa. Moreover, it presents many well-known miracle-working icons of the Virgin Mary in Greece, Mount Athos, the United States, and around the world.

When asked why she wrote the book, Presbytera Papademetriou responded: “As I set out to write this book, I often asked myself: How does one write about the Virgin Mary, the Panagia, the Theotokos? How does one write about the icon of human perfection? And yet, it was the Virgin Mary who strengthened me and lit the way for me to complete this book.”

The book describes the place of the Panagia at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the central Feast of Christianity. As Presbytera Papademetriou explains in her book, the Church Fathers believed that the Virgin Mary was the only one who fully understood the mystery of the Resurrection. In the Paschal hymn we hear: “The angel cried to her who is full of grace: ‘Rejoice! And again I say rejoice! Your son is risen from the tomb on the third day…’” By her acceptance to be the mother of God, the Virgin Mary became the vessel for our salvation.

The Virgin Mary and the other Myrrh-Bearing Women were the last to leave the tomb, the first to witness the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the first to spread the good news. Upon receiving the news of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection, Mary Magdalene was the first one to run and tell Peter and the other disciples. Women in the early Church, beginning with the Virgin Mary and the Myrrh-Bearing Women, were instrumental in spreading Christianity.

Presbytera Papademetriou explains how the idea for this book was sparked. A graduate of Hellenic College and Simmons University (Master of Library Science), Presbytera Papademetriou worked for many years as Assistant Director and cataloger at the Archbishop Iakovos Library at Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, in Brookline, Massachusetts. While she was cataloguing many titles on the Virgin Mary, she was inspired to learn more. She says, “I promised myself that someday I would read these books, cover to cover.”

When she had the opportunity to go back to these books in more detail, she realized that there was no compilation of the icons of the Virgin Mary in English. She spent several years researching these icons and writing about them. The resulting book, based on serious theological and historical scholarship, has many devotional and spiritual benefits for the clergy and lay readers. At the same time, Presbytera Papademetriou strives to present compelling and powerful stories and icons that will interest both Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.

She expressed her fervent wish for readers of her book about the Virgin Mary: “You will soon will find hesychia – serenity and peace – entering your heart.” She added: “To all readers, I kindly ask you to open this book and embark on a spiritual journey that will open your heart and mind. Look directly at the miracle-working icons and read the stories, and try to pray and contemplate.”

Presbytera Papademetriou was born in Tanagra, Voiotias, Greece, to Anastasios and Evangelia (Dougekos) Antoniou. She spent her childhood in occupied Greece during World War II and the Greek Civil War. She came to the United States to continue her education, as was impressed upon her by her parents.

Presbytera Papademetriou is married to the Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetriou, who is Associate Professor Emeritus at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and the former long-time Director of the Library. He taught many of the Greek Orthodox priests who today serve in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and they remember him fondly as their professor. He also served as the parish priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, including in Fort Worth, Texas; Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; Annapolis, Maryland; Lexington, Massachusetts; and numerous other parishes in New England. Presbytera and Father Papademetriou reside in Needham, Massachusetts in the Metropolis of Boston.

Presbytera Papademetriou is also the author of Presbytera: The Life, Mission, and Service of the Priest’s Wife. This book is full of historical and practical information on such topics as the place of women in the Church, the history of married priests and their wives, the call to the ministry, marriage, family life, service (diakonia), spiritual growth, and parish life. It is also based on her own personal experiences of being a presbytera and sharing in the ministry of her husband.

Her book about the Virgin Mary and her icons is highly recommended by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who wrote the Foreword for the book. In addition, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Bishop Anthony of Synada (formerly V. Rev. Anton C. Vrame), Rev. Alkiviadis C. Calivas, and V. Rev. Arch. Maximos Constas each wrote Commendations.

Bishop Anthony of Synada, author of The Educating Icon: Teaching Wisdom and Holiness in the Orthodox Way, gave a very perceptive explanation of the significance of the book. He wrote: “Presbytera Papademetriou has offered a comprehensive and very accessible introduction to the icons of the Virgin Mary. By focusing her attention on the many places where the Virgin Mary appears in icons, both where she is the central figure, but also where she was present at events in the life of her son, Jesus Christ, we see the interaction of Scripture and Holy Tradition, including Orthodox liturgical life, in its powerful ability to form our phronema as Orthodox Christians. By presenting the many ways the Virgin Mary is depicted, and the many miracle-working icons of her (and there are far more than most of us realize), Presbytera Papademetriou has given us a guide for our spiritual growth.”

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