Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
"God took flesh from thy pure blood; therefore, all generations praise thee, o Holy Lady, and the heavenly hosts glorify thee; for through thee have they clearly seen Him Who ruleth all things, take on human nature."
"Blessed Bride of God, Thou Good Soil which grew the untitled corn that saves the world, grant that I may be saved by eating it."
"Most Holy Lady, Thou Holy Altar of the Bread of Life which for mercy's sake came down from on High to give new life to the world, render me worthy, although I am so unworthy, to taste with awe of this Bread and live."
"O Thou who art full of Divine Grace and gave birth in a manner beyond understanding to the Savior Christ, cleanse me, thy sinful servant, I beseech thee, O Pure One, from all defilement of flesh and spirit, for I desire to approach worthily the immaculate Mysteries."
THE NATIVITY OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY THE THEOTOKOS AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY
(source: The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos by the Holy Apostles Convent and Dormition Skete)
The account of the Nativity of Mary portrays the Archangel Gabriel as knowledgeable of the great destiny of Mary when he utters the following sentence: "So in the process of her years, as she shall be in a miraculous manner born of one that was barren, so she shall, while yet a virgin, in an incomparable manner, bring forth the Son of the Most High, the Savior of all nations. This shall be a sign to thee of the things which I announce: When thou shalt come to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, thou shalt meet there thy wife Anna who, lately has been anxious from the delay of thy return, and will rejoice to see thee." Having thus spoken, the Angel departed from Joachim.
The Angel Appears to Anna
While the holy Anna was in the garden, the same Angel of the Lord then appeared to her, saying, "Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive and bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said, "As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister unto Him all the days of its life" [I Samuel 1:11].
"Wise Anna prayed faithfully and God hearkened. And she heard the Angel's confirmation of her many entreaties..."
"I am the Angel who has presented thy prayers and alms before God; and now I have been sent to thee to announce to thee that thou shalt bring forth a daughter, who shall be called Mary, and who shall be blessed above all women. She shall be full of the favor of the Lord, even from her birth. She shall remain in her father's house until she is weaned and, thereafter, she shall be delivered to the service of the Lord. She shall serve God, day and night, in fasting and prayers. She shall abstain from every unclean thing and shall not depart from the temple until she shall reach the years of discretion."
The Conception by Anna
On the following day, Joachim brought his offerings into the temple. And, having worshiped the Lord, they (Joachim and Anna) returned home, and Anna conceived by Joachim's seed, and they awaited the divine promise in certainty and in gladness. When it was heard that Anna had conceived, there was great joy among all their neighbors and acquaintances, so that the whole land of Israel congratulated them.
Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus (315-403 A.D.) writes that: "Mary was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. She was conceived by marital union and the see of man..." And, "Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, she was prepared to take part in the divine economy."
Thus, the Pre-Eternal Logos (Word) has now made a throne for Himself on earth, so the Church chants: "Today God Who rests upon the spiritual thrones has made ready for Himself a holy throne upon earth. He Who made firm the heavens in His wisdom has prepared a living heaven in His love for man. For from a barren root He has made a Life-Giving branch spring up for us, even His Mother. God of wonders and hope of the hopeless, glory be to Thee, O Lord."
The Orthodox Church teaches that the Virgin Mary was conceived by Joachim's seed and the period of gestation was nine months. None of the ancient holy Fathers say that God in miraculous fashion purified the Virgin Mary while yet in Anna's womb. Only Jesus Christ is completely pure of every sin, while all men, being born of Adam, have born a flesh subject to the law of sin. Many have correctly indicated that the Virgin Mary, just as all men, endured a battle with sinfulness, but was victorious over temptations and was saved by her Divine Son.
Blessed John Maximovitch (+1966) taught, "that the Virgin was not placed in the state of being unable to sin, but continued to take care for her salvation and overcame all temptations. The righteousness and sanctity of the Virgin Mary was manifested in the fact that she, being 'human with passions like us,' so loved God and gave herself over to Him, that by her purity she was exalted above all other creatures. Mary was to become the Mother of God, the Theotokos, not because she was to give birth to divinity, but that through her the Logos (word) became true man, God-man."
Saint Andrew of Crete (+660-740 A.D.) chants:
"O Bride of the Father, immaculate Mother of the Son, and holy and resplendent temple of the Holy Spirit; O most chaste of all creation, most suitable to His ultimate purpose, on this account the universe was created and, by thy birth, was the Eternal Will of the Creator fulfilled."
The Patriarchs and Prophets Prophesy
In the hymns of this feast, Saint Stephen of the Holy City chants that "Eve declares her daughter and descendant blessed, 'for unto me is born deliverance, through which I shall be set free from the bonds of hell.'"
Old Testament types clearly manifest the Virgin Mary; for, "She is the Fountain of Life that gushes forth from the flinty rock" (Ex. 17:6); she is the Bush (Ex. 3:2) springing from barren ground and burning with the immaterial fire that cleanses and enlightens our souls. Saint John of Damascus adds to this, chanting, "Inspired by God, the divine choir (the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament) spoke of thee in prophecy as the Mountain (Dan. 2:45), "the Gate of Heaven (Ez, 44:2) and the spiritual Ladder" (Gen. 28:12-17), "for out of thee was hewn a stone, not cut by the hand of man; and thou art the gate through which passed the lord of Wonders, the God of our fathers. And, "The East gate" (Ezek. 44:1-3) "newly born, awaits the entrance of the Great Priest".
The ninth century hymnographer, Sergios of the Holy City, chants, "She is the treasure of virginity, the rod of Aaron (Num. 17:23) springing from the root of Jesse, the preaching of the prophets, offshoot of the righteous Joachim and Anna. She is born, and with her is the world become new again. She is born, and the Church clothes herself in majesty. She is the holy temple, the receiver of the Godhead: the instrument of virginity, the bridal chamber of the King, wherein was accomplished the marvelous mystery of the ineffable union of the natures which come together in Christ."
The Virgin's Birthplace
A discrepancy exists as to the place of her birth. Some apocryphal accounts speak of Nazareth as the home of her parents; others claim that the house of Joachim was located near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. This latter point is confirmed by Saint Sophronios and further certified by Saint John of Damascus. Thus, her Jerusalem home might have been very convenient to the temple. We read in the latter's Sermon on the Birth of the Theotokos: "The Mother of God was born to us in the holy Sheep Gate. Rejoice, O Sheep Gate, the Most Holy Temple of God's Mother. Rejoice, O Sheep Gate, the wall of Joachim's sheep." It is also quite possible, that a man as wealthy as Joachim had residences in both Judea and Galilee.
The Infant Mary
According to the Protoevangelium, a charming incident relating Mary's first steps is recounted, where she displays miraculous precocity. The child grew and increased in strength daily. When Mary was about nine months old, Anna set her on the ground to see whether her daughter could stand. Mary indeed walked seven steps and came again to her mother. Anna then picked her up.
Mary's first anniversary of her nativity, according to the Protoevangelium, was celebrated by Joachim with a feast to which he invited the priests, scribes, elders and all the people of Israel. During the festivities, Joachim brought his daughter before the priests; and they blessed her, and said, "O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name throughout all generations." And all the people replied, "So be it, Amen."
Many objects have been regarded as types of the Virgin and have been depicted in the iconography of Orthodox churches. Analogies and interpretations of this kind abound also in the liturgy, hymnography and homilies of the Church. Within the literary authority of the Church, iconography developed a typology of the Virgin. One such "type" is described in Jacob's vision, which is read in the service of Great Vespers of three of the Virgin's feasts: the Nativity of the Virgin, the Annunciation and her Dormition (Koimisis). We read that Jacob's vision of the ladder reached to heaven, upon which Angels ascended and descended, and above the Lord stood (Genesis 28:10-17). Saint Photios writes that Mary, "The Ladder leading up to heaven is being built, and earthly nature, leaping over her proper boundaries, comes to dwell in the heavenly tabernacles."
A Personal Appeal: It is with much humility and love that I urge all of you to offer always the appropriate respect to our Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God) and seek her intercessions and charity. Our Mother of God who prays constantly for the salvation of all mankind and sheds tears before her Son and God to be merciful to us and to save us.
Historically, Orthodox Christians, have always turned to the Theotokos for forgiveness, guidance, inspiration, healing, protection and to lead them to the true Christian path. Orthodox Christian women have had a very special relationship with the Mother of God and turned to her at times of sorrow, pain, suffering, and personal crisis. The Mother of God has been their role-model when it came to devotion, chastity, holiness, purity, dignity, motherhood, faith, and friendship. It is my hope and prayer, dear friends, that you all continue to honor her as the Almighty God and Creator of all, honored her and continues to honor her in His Divine embrace and Eternal Kingdom. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God