Written by Vladimir Moss



       It is of the greatest significance that the first miracle accomplished by Christ, according to St. John, was the miracle at the marriage in Cana of Galilee; for just as the first effect of the Fall, after the loss of communion with God, was the loss of communion between man and woman, so the first fruit of the Incarnation, after the reunion of God with man, was the reunion of man and woman.

      Of course, communion between man and woman was not entirely lost after the Fall. And the joy of marital union remained as a kind of nostalgic reminder of the joys of Paradise. As Vladimir Lossky writes: "Human love would not be pregnant with such a paradisiacal nostalgia if there did not remain painfully within it the memory of a first condition where the other and the world were known from the inside, where, accordingly, death did not exist..."[1] But earthly joys, however innocent, can only be a shadow of those of Paradise and Heaven. And Christ, Who came "that they might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10.10), now approached an ordinary human couple so as to transform the water of their fallen love into "the new wine of the birth of Divine joy of the Kingdom of Christ".[2]

     "And the Mother of Jesus was there" (John 2.1). Of no other miracle of Christ is it recorded that "the Mother of Jesus was there", and in no other miracle of Christ is such an important intercessory role ascribed to another human agent. The reason is plain. The miracle accomplished here is the restoration of the relationship between Adam and Eve: but how can that be done without the participation of both the new Adam and the new Eve? And if the original rupture was caused by the sinful petition of the first Eve to the first Adam, how can that be reversed if not by a sinless petition of the new Eve to the new Adam?

     And so "the Mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine" (John 2.3). She who received the new wine of the love of God now wishes, in her love for her fellow men, that they, too, should partake of it. Having fulfilled her first and greatest role as Mother of God, she now wishes to pass on to her second, that of intercessor for the human race.

     But Christ replies in an unexpected manner: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come" (John 2.4). Some of the Fathers have interpreted this as a rebuke to the Virgin, as if it had been wrong for her to put herself forward and intercede at this time. But other Father offer a deeper interpretation…


     It should be noted, first of all, that the Virgin does not act as if she had been rebuked. On the contrary, she acts as if she has received some kind of assurance from Him to continue as before, and tells the servants: "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it" (John 2.5). Moreover, Christ does not refuse her request, but performs the miracle…

     One possibility is that Christ was recalling the fact that it was through giving in to his wife's petition that the first Adam fell, so that just like the Virgin herself at the approach of the Archangel Gabriel, He, the new Adam, was going to act with cautious reserve. So: "What have I to do with thee?" means "What is my relationship with you: tempted and tempter, as in the Garden, or something new and holy?"

     But if their relationship is new and holy, then she must understand that the full restoration, when He can truly say, "It is finished" (John 19.30) and "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21.5), must await "Mine hour" - the hour of His Crucifixion and Death on the Cross (John 7.30, 8.20, 12.23, 12.27, 13.1, 16.32, 17.1), at which, of course, the Mother of God would also be present. Then, and only then, can the Holy Spirit be poured out on all flesh as it was first poured out upon her.

     That the Lord is obliquely referring to Adam and Eve in the Garden is confirmed by His use of the word "Woman". For this recalls the prophecy that was given to first Eve in the Garden concerning the Woman Whose Seed, it was promised, would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3.15). Now Mary is indeed the Woman of that prophecy, as Christ is the Seed Who will crush the power of Satan - only the time for that victory has not yet come.

     According to the illuminating interpretation of St. Gaudentius, bishop of Breschia in the fourth century, the Lord was not rebuking the Virgin, but looking forward to the Crucifixion: "This answer of His does not seem to me to accord with Mary's suggestion, if we take it literally in its first apparent sense, and do not suppose our Lord to have spoken in mystery, meaning thereby that the wine of the Holy Spirit could not be given to the Gentiles before His Passion and Resurrection, as the Evangelist attests: 'As yet the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified' (John 7.39). With reason, then, at the beginning of His miracles, did He thus answer His Mother; as though He said: 'Why this thy so hasty suggestion, O Woman? Since the hour of My Passion is not yet come when, - all powers whether of teaching or of divine operations being then completed - I have determined to die for the life of believers. After My Passion and Resurrection, when I shall return to the Father, there shall be given to them the wine of the Holy Spirit.' Whereupon she too, that most blessed one, knowing the profound mystery of this answer, understood that the suggestion she had just made was not slighted or spurned, but, in accordance with that spiritual reason, was for a time delayed. Otherwise, she would never have said to the waiters, 'Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye'."[3] "For He Who before, by way of image, from water made wine, when He said to the most blessed Mary, 'What is it to Me and thee, Woman? Mine hour is not yet come', the Same, after the hour of His Passion, so far consummated the reality of the mystery which had gone before, that the water of the Incarnation became in truth the wine of the Divinity."[4]           

     Just as at Cana the Lord and His Mother look forward to His “hour”, the Crucifixion, so at the Crucifixion, according to the liturgy of the Orthodox Church, His Mother looks back to the marriage at Cana. Or rather, as the text indicates, she looks forward to the heavenly marriage-feast of the Resurrection, which also took place "on the third day" (John 2.1): "Seeing her own Lamb led to the slaughter, Mary His Mother followed Him with the other women, and in her grief she cried: 'Where dost Thou go, my Child? Why dost Thou run so swiftly? Is there another wedding in Cana, and art Thou hastening there to turn the water into wine?"[5]

     "And there were set six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water" (John 2.6-7). Some commentators suggest that these waterpots were used for the washing of hands before meals. Considering their size - 18 to 27 gallons each - they might well have been used to wash, not the hands only, but the whole body. If so, then they become a fitting symbol of the fallen nature of man. For man was created on the sixth day from water and clay and the breath of the Holy Spirit, but the whole mixture had become stony and dry through the loss of the Spirit. Now the Creator of man, having Himself taken flesh from the virgin earth of Mary, recasts the bodies and souls of men through Baptism, so that they can become fitting vessels, "new bottles" into which to pour the "new wine" of the Spirit (Mark 2.22).

     As St. Gaudentius says: "'They had no wine' because the wedding wine was consumed, which means that the Gentiles had not the wine of the Holy Spirit. So what is here referred to is not the wine of these nuptials, but the wine of the preceding nuptials; for the nuptial wine of the Holy Spirit had ceased, since the prophets had ceased to speak, who before had ministered unto the people of Israel. For all the prophets and the Law had prophesied until the coming of John; nor was there any one to give spiritual drink to the Gentiles who thirsted; but the Lord Jesus was awaited, Who would fill the new bottles with new wine by His baptism; 'for the old things have passed away: behold all things are made new' (II Corinthians 5.17)."[6]

     Alternatively, we may take the waterpots to be marriages, each containing two (childless) or three (fertile) people. Now marriage is, as it were, a "natural" sacrament inherent in the original creation.[7] Since the Fall, however, it has become stony and empty through the passions. So the Lord first purifies it, washing away every defilement of sin and fallen passion. Then He pours into it the grace of the Holy Spirit, thereby raising it to a higher level than it was even in Paradise.

     "And He saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when they have well drunk, then that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now" (John 2.8-10).

     In the beginning, the Governor of the feast of life, God the Father, set forth the good wine of the paradisiacal Eros. But this wine was turned into water by the Fall, and even dried up completely in places. Now God the Son, the Divine Bridegroom of the human race, has turned that water into a wine better than the original; for it has been mixed with, and transformed by an infusion from "the true Vine" (John 15.1). And this wine, squeezed out by the winepress of the Cross and distributed in abundance on the Day of Pentecost, has inebriated those who follow Him with the "sober intoxication" of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.13).

     "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him" (John 2.11). The grace of the Holy Spirit is called "glory" in the Gospel. It was first manifested at the Incarnation, when "we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father" (John 1.14). Between the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, when Jesus was glorified and the Spirit could be given for the first time "without measure" and to all peoples, the glory of God is said to be manifested only once - at the marriage in Cana. This shows that the marriage in Cana marks a special stage in the economy of salvation. If the Incarnation is suffused with glory because then, for the first time, the grace of God is restored to human nature in the person of the Virgin, then the marriage in Cana is suffused with glory because then, for the first time, grace is restored to the relationship between man and woman. And if at Nazareth man became once more "the image and glory of God", then at Cana woman became once more "the glory of the man" (I Corinthians 11.7)... 

Orthodox America, vol. XVI, 147-148, March-April, May-June, 1997, pp. 13-15; revised April 14/27, 2020.


[1]Lossky, "Creation: Cosmic Order", in Orthodox Theology, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1978, p. 67.

[2]Pentecostarion, Paschal Mattins, canon, canticle eight, troparion.

[3]St. Gaudentius, Sermon 9; P.L. 20, p. 900.

[4]St. Gaudentius, Sermon 19, P.L. 20, p. 990.

[5]Triodion, Holy Friday, Compline, canon, ikos.

[6]St. Gaudentius, Sermon 8, P.L. 20. Translated by M.F. Toal, Patristic Homilies on the Gospels, Cork: The Mercier Press, 1955, volume 1, p. 313.

[7]S. Troitsky, "Brak i Tserkov" (“Marriage and the Church”), Russkoe Vozrozhdenie (Russian Regeneration), 1986, pp. 7-33.

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