Maternity of St Anna

maternity-of-st-anneThe conception of the all-holy virgin Mary in the womb of Anna is celebrated on December 9 in the Byzantine tradition, for a natural reason, that the Eastern ancients thought a girl was in the womb one day less than a boy. However, in the Ruthenian Church in America, the feast is now celebrated together with the Roman Church on December 8, nine months before her birth on September 8, because she is the patron of the United States.

It is clear that this is a preparation for the birth of Christ on Christmas, for the first sticheron of the feast begins: “The barren Anna leaped for joy when she gave birth to Mary the Virgin who in turn will give birth in the flesh to God the Word.” Mary, the daughter of Anna and Joachim by way of natural birth is to be the temple of the Word of God incarnate for our sake and for our salvation.

The Eastern and Western Churches put the accent on different aspects of the feast. In the East, we celebrate the miracle of God taking away the barrenness of Anna’s womb. The Protoevangelium of James portrays the sadness of Joachim and Anna. Joachim lamented, “I have searched whether I am the only one who has not begotten offspring in Israel, and I have found of all the righteous that they had raised up offspring in Israel.” Anna wept, “I will bewail my widowhood, and bewail my childlessness.” (1,3 and 2,1) Two angels came, one to Joachim and another to Anna with a divine message that they would bear a child, even in their old age. When God takes away an emptiness, he fills us more than our faith can grasp, and they gave birth not only a child, but to the new Ark of God’s covenant with us.

The Western Church, on the other hand, puts the accent on Mary’s purity from all sin from her conception, defined by Pope Bl. Pius IX in 1848 as the Immaculate Conception. The theology behind this is that the incarnation of the sinless Word of God must come from a sinless temple, the womb of Mary which was never touched by sin, even from her conception.

It is unfortunate that this dogma has become a bone of contention between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Both believe in the ancestral sin, but in different ways, so that for the Orthodox the main curse of the sin of Adam and Eve is death, while for the Catholics, it is original sin. May we seek unity and not division. Most Orthodox theologians do believe that the “ancestral sin” has infected the human race, but might disagree about the way it does this. In our dialogue, we must seek a mutual understanding, perhaps in the words of Orthodox theologians who saw a “pre-purification” in Mary. “And in every way [the Lord] became a man, save sin, for he had been conceived from a virgin, after she had been pre-purified with respect to soul and body through the Holy Spirit.” (Gregory the Theologian, Homily 38 on the Theophany) or St. John Damascene, who wrote, “O all-blessed loins of Joachim, from which the all-pure seed was sown. O epic womb, in which the all-holy infant was born, after she was formed, and a little later increased by nutriments from Anne. Her (Anne’s) belly conceived in itself an ensouled heaven, wider than the wide space of heaven.” (Both quotes from Christian Kappes’ book, The Immaculate Conception 21 and 60).

In both cases, the conception of the Theotokos in the womb of Anna today is our preparation for Christmas. For God took away the barrenness of one couple in a conception that would have a cosmic dimension for every one of us: the coming into the world of it’s Creator, who would take away the curse on Adam and Eve by the birth of his Son with the power to bring us all into sinlessness. Receiving his body and blood in Communion, the priest prays, “may this be for the remission of sins and life everlasting.” The Hymn of Light at Matins thus proclaims: “Today Anna conceives the One who will give birth to the Light which illumines all creation. Therefore, let us all gather together, for the one who delivers us from the judgment of Eve now comes forth.”

Maternity of St. Ann –Holy Day

December 8 is a Holy Day celebrating the Maternity of Saint Ann (AKA Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of God in the Latin Church). You will also hear the feast as the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Divine Liturgy will be served at 9:00 a.m. in Ukrainian AND 7:00 p.m. in English.

The Holy Theotokos under the title of the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the United States of America.

“With the Angels let us celebrate the aIl-glorious conception of the Mother of God” (From the Matins). Historically, Saint Ann is the mother of the Virgin Mary. Ann’s biography says that she was the youngest daughter of the priest Nathan from Bethlehem, descended from the tribe of Levi. She married Saint Joachim, who was a native of Galilee.

For many years Saint Ann was childless, but after twenty years, through the fervent prayer of both spouses, an angel of the Lord announced to them that they would be the parents of a daughter, Who would bring blessings to the entire human race.

For more information on this feast, read an article published by the Ruthenian Metropolitan Church in Pittsburgh, which also speaks to the Ukrainian observance.


The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

The feast today is the story of our salvation through the temple of God.

The first temple was the temple in Jerusalem. It was a foreshadowing of the temple to come. It was localized in one place – the city of Jerusalem. In it were no images of God, for “No one has ever seen God. (1 John 4:12)” The Liturgy tells us that he is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing, yet ever the same.” The temple was his footstool on earth. Here animal sacrifice was offered to God, which was only a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice to be offered by our Lord, “when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)”

The second temple is Mary, the birth-giver of God.” In today’s feast, she enters the temple of Jerusalem in order to replace it, for she shall bear God within her womb. As the new and living temple of God, she is our temple, for like Mary, who carried God in her womb, we receive God into our bodies in Holy Communion. As Mary was fed in the temple by angelic bread, so we receive the bread of life, the Body of Jesus, and his holy blood of the perfect sacrifice, which becomes our sacrifice of praise. St. Paul teaches us, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1),” in Sunday’s Epistle, he wrote, “you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)” This is the temple of God for us today.

The third temple is the one yet to come, but it surpasses all temples, which are only temporary dwelling-places, and so the Book of Revelation foretells, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new. (Revelation 21:1-5)” This fulfills the first temple of Jerusalem, “(The angel) took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God …. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)” We pray with St. Paul, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. (Phillipians 1:21-24)”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos

On this Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos. This commemorates the vision of St. Andrew, the Fool for Christ, who, during an attack, as the people kept an All-night Vigil of Prayer, saw the Mother of God holding a protecting veil over her city. We can say, then, that this feast celebrates the power of Mary, who fights on behalf of Christians, and is a mighty protector of the people. On this day we read the common Gospel from St. Luke on feasts of Mary, the story of Mary and Martha. Maybe a better gospel would be the story of the wedding at Cana in Galilee. There, at Cana, it was Jesus’ mother, a woman, who by her plea, guided God to make wine out of water, telling the stewards, and through them, saying to all of us, “Do whatever he tells you.” As his mother, she began the story of Jesus’ mission, even though he had said, “My hour has not yet come.” This truly is power given to her by God. This is still Mary’s relationship with us. She is our protector and motherly intercessor. She is the mother of all believers, for our Lord, on the cross, gave her to his beloved disciple and through him to all of us. Her message to us always, every time she appears, is “Do what my Son tells you.”

Today, we have fierce debates about the role of women in the Church. But the evidence here is for the power of women, just as Eve brought about the fall of the human race by her disobedience (Adam only ratified her decision), so Mary brings salvation into the world by her obedient decision to become the mother of God Incarnate. She said, as every Christian must also say, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” And Mary receives this great power in a human way, through humility and weakness. She plays a hidden role in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, but it is through her weakness that the Christian finds strength, it is in her humility that we find wisdom, and in her death we are given the hope of life, “O Theotokos, … in your falling asleep you did not forsake the world … and through your prayers you deliver our souls from death. (Troparion of the Feast of the Dormition)

Today is our day of hope as we pray, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Feast of the Birth of the Theotokos

Christians of East and West can express their gratitude for today’s feast to brought  to our awareness by Eastern monks. It was in the seventh century, this feast  of Our Lady was celebrated by Greek Christians. The narrative of Mary’s Nativity is not testified to in sacred Scripture but known only from apocryphal sources. By the end of the seventh century this feast gained acceptance in the Diocese of Rome.

Our meditation for today

The Epistle today is from Philippians, and it is about Christ, “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. (Philippians 2:7-9)” The mystery of Mary, the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God, is united with the mystery of Jesus our Lord, the Giver of Life to all. Every feast is a celebration of the one Paschal Mystery, how through his death on the Cross (“by death trampling upon death”) the Son of God bestowed life upon the whole world, and how, therefore, in our humiliation, in giving ourselves in love to God and, through him, to each other, we find glory in God.

Joachim and Anna were humbled and desolate, barren of children, and yet, “from infertile ground, the fertile ground is born. From her has grown the Gardener (see that Mary Magdalene mistakes the risen Christ for a gardener) of all fruit, the flower bringing life, who by the will of God nourishes the universe. (1st Troparion, Ode 3, Matins of the Pre-feast)” Today we chant that “Joachim and Anne were freed from the reproach of childlessness.” This mystery must be re-lived in the life of Christ, the child born of Mary, who dies on the Cross in desolation, so that all the universe may be freed from the “despair of death,” and find life in God.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Dormition’s blessing of herbs and flowers

Tonight at the Divine Liturgy, Father Iura blessed herbs and flowers.

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. (Byzantine Liturgy; Troparion, Feast of the Dormition)

The Dormition of the Theotokos

“Come, all you ends of the earth, let us praise the blessed passing of the Mother of God. She delivers her sinless soul into the hands of her Son; through her holy Dormition, the world is given new life.” (Stichera at the Litija)

The feast of the birth of John the Baptist is sometimes called the summer Christmas, so also the Dormition (falling-asleep) of the Mother of God might be called the summer Pascha. In both these feasts the cosmic change accomplished by the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God is seen in the lives of human beings, for in Christ the order of mortality is overturned. In the mystery of Mary’s falling-asleep, we see our sinfulness is over-written by the sinless one, who in obedience turns over her “sinless soul” to the incarnate God.

The Gospel today is a story not about Mary, the Theotokos, but about Mary of Bethany, but the words addressed by God to her sister Martha become iconic for all human beings: “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. (Luke 10:42)” What has she chosen? To sit at the feet of our Lord, to put Jesus at the center of her life, and to listen to him. This is Mary’s eternal mission, as she tells the stewards at the wedding in Cana: “Do whatever he (Jesus, her Son) tells you. (John 2:5)” This is the mystery the ends of the earth celebrate today, for it has transformed the meaning of human life, and “through he holy Dormition, the world is given new life.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

May is the Month of Our Lady

In addition to the myriad of feast days honoring Our Lady in her many titles and virtues, the entire month of May is especially given to her praise. In the words of Pope Paul VI: May is “a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God . . . For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne.”

Fourth Sunday of Great Lent

This weekend we are celebrating the mystery of our Lord’s accepting human nature for our salvation. The Archangel Gabriel asks Mary to receive God’s plan and become the mother of the Son and Word of God, to be named “Jesus,” “Savior.” Mary replies, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)” Mary’s response to God was perfect and reversed the sin of Eve. In our Lenten journey, we are asked the same question by God, “Can you be perfectly obedient to my will.” This is not to put us into slavery, but to free us from the power of sin and death. Jesus gave the power to cast out evil to his followers, but in this Sunday’s Gospel, a distraught man who has a son possessed by a demon, comes to Jesus and laments, “I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were not able. (Mark 9:18)” Jesus immediately tells the man it is because of their lack of faith, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? (Mark 9:19)”

Mary’s obedience to God was perfect, and she gave birth to salvation, our obedience is not perfect, and so we are unable to cast out evil from our lives. Why is this? It may be because of weakness, that we are not strong enough to keep God’s law, and are in need of his strength through grace. It may be that we do not fully understand God’s will, and mix up our own desires with it. In any case, our Lord asks us to become more faithful in the second half of the Great Fast, since “this kind cannot be drive out by anything but prayer and fasting.” This is true faith.

Annunciation of Mary, the Mother of God

Annunciation of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos), March 25th
The Solemnity of the Annunciation is a Holy Day of Obligation. Our Worship begins at 9:45 a.m. with Lytijia and Blessing of Bread and at 10:00 a.m. with the Divine Liturgy, followed by anointing.
“Today is the Prelude of joy for the whole world. Let us then anticipate the feast and celebrate with glee, for behold, Gabriel is on his way with the glad tidings for the Virgin; he is about to cry out in fear and amazement: ‘Hail, O Woman full of grace! The Lord is with you!'” (Troparion)