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.
A CONTRITE PRAYER TO THE MOTHER OF GOD
O never-failing protection of Christians and ever-present mediation before the Creator, despise not the prayers of us sinners, but by thy goodness extend thy help to us, who in faith call upon thee: hasten, O Mother of God, to intercede for us and make speed to supplicate for us, thou who ever protects those, who honor thee.
It is meet indeed to bless thee, the Ever-Blessed and Most Pure and Mother of our God. Thee that art more honorable than the Cherubim, and incomparable more glorious than the Seraphim, who without spot of sin did bear God the Logos (Word); Thee, verily the Mother of God, we magnify.
THE NATIVITY OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY THE THEOTOKOS AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY (September 8th)
The Parentage of the Ever-Virgin Mary
The Blessed and Ever-Glorious Virgin Mary, sprung from the royal stock and family of David the king. Her father's name was Joachim, and her mother's name was Anna. Her father's family, of the tribe of Judah, was from Nazareth of Galilee, but her mother's family was from Bethlehem of Judea. Her mother, Anna, was the daughter of Matthan the priest, of the tribe of Levi.
Their lives were plain and righteous before the Lord, an irreproachable and pious before men. Joachim was the shepherd of his own sheep. He feared the Lord in integrity and singleness of heart. Apart from his herds, he had no other occupation. Joachim was an exceedingly rich man and was wont to bring double offerings of what the Law required, saying, "The superabundance of my substance shall be for the benefit of all the people, but the offering I make for myself is so that I might find mercy and forgiveness from the Lord for my sins.
In fact, Joachim supplied the poor and all that feared God with food. His lambs, sheep, and their wool, and whatsoever things he possessed, he would divide into three portions: one he gave to the orphans, widows, strangers and the poor; the second to the temple and its servants, and those that worshiped God; and the third he kept for himself and all his house and family. Thus doing, the Lord multiplied Joachim's herds, so that there was no man like him among the sons of Israel. He had this custom since he was fifteen years old. Thus Joachim was dear to God and kind to men.
At the age of twenty, he took to wife Anna. They had lived many years together, some say fifty, but had neither a son nor daughter. This fact saddened the righteous ones, because they could not hope that any progeny of theirs would see the Messiah. Nevertheless, they vowed that should the Lord grant them offspring, they would dedicate it to the service of the Lord. On account of this the pious couple were wont to go up to Jerusalem, to the temple of the Lord, at each of the yearly festivals.
In the East, to be a wife without motherhood was not only regarded as a matter of regret, but also a matter of reproach and humiliation, that could even lead to divorce. If a woman could not have children, it was viewed as a curse from God, for it meant extinction. It was thought that she must have in some way displeased the Lord. Society then usually considered the wife as the problem. It was also a constant source of embarrassment to both the wife and her husband, for the welfare of the children is a never-omitted subject of inquiry in all courteous Oriental salutations.
Even those who loved her treated her as an object of pity. Aggravating the family misfortune of barrenness was the loss of hope of mothering the Messiah or, as they believed, having seed that would behold the Messiah. Moreover, to have had children and to have lost them was the strongest possible claim upon receiving sympathy.
Jewish parents believed that a part of them lived on in their children and, therefore, looked upon children as a blessing. It followed that to be without offspring was to exist in name only. Children were also hoped for so as to keep inheritance in the family. If a woman did have children, it greatly increased her prestige in the family. For example, to avoid disgrace, we know that the wives of the patriarchs, Sarah (Genesis 16:2) and Rachel (Genesis 30:3), gave their handmaids to their husbands; other methods were adoption or polygamy. Polygamy first appeared in the reprobate line of Cain, when Lamech took two wives (Genesis 4:19).
The Feast of the Dedication
Now the great day of the Lord was at hand, the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) and the Feast of Lights, commencing on the 25th of Chislev or Kislev (the ninth month; November-December), which was celebrated for eight days, when the sons of Israel would bring their offerings (I Macc. 4:52-59; 2 Macc. 10:5). At this time, Joachim, too, was preparing his gifts to offer to the Lord. When the high priest Reuben beheld Joachim, he despised him and spurned his gifts, saying, "It is not lawful for thee to stand among them that are offering sacrifice to God, because God has not blessed thee, so as to give thee seed in Israel. Cursed is every one who has not begot a male or a female in Israel!"
Thus, a hymn for this feast says, The holy Joachim and Anna brought their gift to the sanctuary, but it was not received on account of their childlessness.
Reuben then said that Joachim ought first to be freed from this curse by begetting some issue; and then only should he come into the presence of the Lord with his offerings.
A Kontakion (a hymn) of Saint Romanos Melodos (490 - 556 A.D.) speaks of the holy man's rejection:
"He (Joachim) brought gifts to the temple but they were not received; the priests did not wish to accept them, since they were from a childless man who had no seed. And Joachim was scorned by the sons of Israel. But at the proper time, along with Anna, he brought in the Virgin with gifts of thanksgiving."
Publicly disdained for childlessness, the confounded Joachim, covered with shame from this reproach that was thrown in his teeth, retreated weeping from the Court of Men in the temple of the Lord. Exceedingly grieved, he went away to the registers of the Twelve Tribes of the people, and said, "I shall see the registers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, to see if I alone have not made seed in Israel." Thus Joachim searched the records only to find that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel. Saddened by this, he, nevertheless, comforted himself when he called to mind the Patriarch Abraham whom God gave a son in the latter days.
Joachim Retires into the Wilderness
At that time, Joachim was not inclined to return home, lest his neighbors and those of his tribe, who were present and heard the rebuke of the high priest, should publicly reproach and brand him in the same manner. Therefore, not returning to his house, Joachim went to his shepherds and flocks, and took, them to a far place into the mountains. There, in the hill country, Joachim retired. He pitched his tent and fasted, saying, "I will not go down either for food or drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me; prayer shall be my food and drink".
Again, Saint Romanos chants:
Joachim on the mountain prayed to receive fruit from the womb of Anna; and the prayer of the holy man was accepted.
Anna, meanwhile, departed the Court of Women in the temple, and went home weeping bitterly. Indeed, Anna put off her garments of mourning. At about the ninth hour she went down to the garden to walk. She saw a laurel tree, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying, "O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as thou did open the womb of Sarah and gave her a son Isaac" (Genesis 21:2-3).
Then gazing towards heaven, she noticed a sparrow's nest in the laurel, and bemoaned her barrenness within herself, saying, "Alas, who begot me? And what womb did bear me, that I should be thus accursed before the children of Israel, and that they should reproach and deride me in the temple of my God? Woe is me, to what can I be compared? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! To what can I be compared? I am not like the beasts of the earth, because even the beasts of the earth are fruitful before Thee, O Lord. Woe is me, to what can I be compared? I am not comparable to the waves of the sea; for these, whether they are calm, or in motion, with the fish which are in them, praise Thee, O Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like this earth, because even the earth brings forth its fruit in season and bless Thee, O Lord.
On this occasion Saint Romanos chants:
The prayer and groaning of Joachim and Anna at their barrenness and childlessness have proved acceptable, and have come unto the ears of the Lord; and they have put forth a fruit that brings life to the world. The one offered his prayer in the mountain, the other bore her reproach in the garden. But with joy the barren woman bears the Theotokos who sustains our life.
In comparing the mother Anna with her future daughter Mary, Saint Ephraim the Syrian (+ 306-373 A.D.) chants:
The wife (Anna) proved barren, and withheld her fruit; but the bosom of Mary, bodily conceived (the Christ). To wonder at fields, and to admire plants she (Mary) needed not who received, and rendered what she borrowed not. Nature confessed its defeat; the womb was aware of it, and restored what nature gave not.
An Angel Appears to Joachim
When Joachim had been in the mountains for some time, on a certain day when he was alone, the Archangel Gabriel stood by him. Joachim was disturbed at his appearance, but the Angel endeavored to restrain his fear, saying, "Fear not, Joachim, nor be disturbed by my appearance. I am the Angel of the Lord and have been sent by Him to tell thee that thy prayers have been heard and that thy charitable deeds have gone up into His presence. God has seen thy shame and has heard the reproach of unfruitfulness which has been unjustly brought against thee; for God is to avenger of sin, not of nature."
"Therefore, when He shuts up the womb of anyone, He does so that He may in a more wonderful manner open it, so that which is born may be acknowledged to be the gift of God and not the product of lust. Was this not the case of the mother of thy nation, Sarah, who was barren? (Genesis 17:17). Nevertheless, in extreme old age she brought forth Isaac, in whom the promise was made a blessing to all nations (Genesis 16:2). Rachel also, so much in favor with the Lord and beloved by the holy Jacob, was a long time barren; yet she brought forth Joseph (Genesis 30:23-24), who was not only the lord of Egypt (Genesis 41:40-41), but deliverer of many nations that were ready to perish with hunger (Genesis 41:56-57). Who among the judges was stronger than Samson or more holy than Samuel? And yet both their mother were barren (Judg. 13:2; 1 Samuel 1:20).
Anna, thy wife, will bring forth a daughter to thee and thou shall call her name Mary. According to thy vow, she shall be devoted to the Lord from her infancy, and she shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother's womb. Mary shall not eat or drink anything unclean, nor shall her conversation or life be among the crowds of the people, but in the temple of the Lord, that it may not be possible to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her.
(to be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God