Once upon a time (about 2000 years ago), in a land not so far away (Israel), there lived an old man and woman by the name of Joachim and Anna. They had lived their whole life in faith and the fear of God, observing his commandments faithfully. It is said that, being wealthy, they gave 1/3 of their income to God and 1/3 to the poor.
The holy couple had hoped for a child all their life, but were childless, and Anna had passed the age for bearing children. In ancient Israel, children were considered God’s greatest blessing to a couple, and childlessness was considered a great curse. Because of this Joachim was reproached by others, and even turned away by the priest when he traveled to Jerusalem to make his offering to God. But on one such occasion, an angel of God appeared to Joachim and promised him a child. At the same time, another angel appeared to Anna, bringing the same news. This child, they were told, was to be great in the sight of God.
And so it was. Anna soon bore a child, whom she named Mary. In a very real sense, this event marked the beginning of our salvation, for Mary was to be the Mother of our Savior. Through the grace bestowed on her by God, through her parents’ decision to dedicate her to the Lord, and through her own choice – hour by hour and day by day – to seek only Him, she became a fitting vessel for the Incarnation of God and the salvation of mankind.
On Monday, September 21st, the Church celebrates the Nativity (Birth) of the Most Holy Theotokos. At the Vigil service at 6pm on Sunday, we will sing and read the praises offered to her by the Church’s great hymnographers, joining in the heavenly celebration of our own salvation, and then we will celebrate of the Divine Liturgy at 9am on Monday. This is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church, and we should all make an effort to attend as many of the services as possible, and to spend the day — to the extent possible — in prayer and reflection on the life of the Holy Virgin.
The Church’s great hymnographers write that no words are sufficient to sing the praises of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. But in the spirit of love and thanksgiving, and for our edification, many of them tried anyway, and some of their words can be found here:
The following account of the birth of the Theotokos is taken from the Prologue from Ochrid
The Holy Virgin Mary was born of aged parents, Joachim and Anna. Her father was of the lineage of David, and her mother of the lineage of Aaron. Thus, she was of royal birth by her father, and of priestly birth by her mother. In this, she foreshadowed Him Who would be born of her as King and High Priest. Her parents were quite old and had no children. Because of this they were ashamed before men and humble before God. In their humility they prayed to God with tears, to bring them joy in their old age by giving them a child, as He had once given joy to the aged Abraham and his wife Sarah by giving them Isaac. The Almighty and All-seeing God rewarded them with a joy that surpassed all their expectations and all their most beautiful dreams. For He gave them not just a daughter, but the Mother of God. He illumined them not only with temporal joy, but with eternal joy as well. God gave them just one daughter, and she would later give them just one grandson-but what a daughter and what a Grandson! Mary, Full of grace, Blessed among women, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Altar of the Living God, the Table of the Heavenly Bread, the Ark of God’s Holiness, the Tree of the Sweetest Fruit, the Glory of the race of man, the Praise of womanhood, the Fount of virginity and purity-this was the daughter given by God to Joachim and Anna. She was born in Nazareth, and at the age of three, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. In her young womanhood she returned again to Nazareth, and shortly thereafter heard the Annunciation of the Holy Archangel Gabriel concerning the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, from her most-pure virgin body.