December 8 (December 9) THE MATERNITY OF THE HOLY ANNA
The 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. The [Ukrainian Catholic Church in America celebrates the feast on December 8] Ruthenian Church in America, celebrates the feast together with the Roman Church 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)
All the faithful come before you
Mary, look upon us
O Mary, mother of our God
Rejoice, O purest mother
Virgin, we beseech you Promise
We hasten to your patronage
When the angel came
Where our Mother reigns in.
“By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, / Joachim and Anna are freed from the reproach/disgrace of barrenness (ὀνειδισμοῦ ἀτεκνίας); / Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. / And we, your people, freed from subjection to sin (ἐνοχῆς τῶν πταισμάτων), celebrate and sing to you: / The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!” (Byzantine Kontakion-hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos)
The services of the great feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, celebrated this Sunday (NC), are full of difficult theological concepts, like “corruption of death” and “subjection to (liability for) sin,” referring to our human state before Christ. Even more perplexing, perhaps, is the mention of Christ annulling our “curse” in another well-known hymn of the feast: “By annulling the curse (καὶ λύσας τὴν κατάραν) He bestowed a blessing, by destroying death, He gave us eternal life,” it says in the Troparion-hymn. What does it all mean?
I am given to understand the meaning of these terms first and foremost through a story. It is the personal story of Saints Joachim and Anna, and their “disgrace of barrenness” or “childlessness.” And here’s what their story teaches me: Before God intervened and stepped into our picture, they, like me, were unable to “live” to their full potential. Without the Source of Life stepping into our nature, separated from Him through “sin” (a loss of focus), and a “curse” (a loss of “blessing” or “ev-logia,” a “good word”), we are cut off from His creative energies, which allow us to become truly productive and truly human. He becomes human, through His Most-Pure Mother, so that I can become my true self, freed from paralyzing “barrenness” and capable of giving birth to His word in my world.
So today “the barren woman gives birth,” as He bestows His same blessing on an ever God-Bearing Church. Let me embrace this blessing, by the intercessions of the Blessed Among Women, amen!
Meditation by Sr. Vassa
Father Paul Luniw served the Divine Liturgy and blessed flowers and herbs for the Dormition Feast. Father Stepan did similarly at the morning Liturgy.
“While she lived on this earth,, Mary could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is close to us, actually, “within” all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God. Being in God and with God, she is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a “mother” to whom we can turn at every moment.” Benedict XVI
On Thursday, August 15, the Dormition of our most Holy Lady and the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, a holy of LOVE, the Divine Liturgy will be served at:
~The 10am Liturgy in Ukrainian will be served by Fr. Stepan Yanovsky
~The 7pm Liturgy in English will be served by Fr. Paul Luniw
At both Liturgies Father will bless herbs and flowers in honor of the Dormition.
Join us in worship of God.
“Father,” someone once asked their priest, “I have a difficult time observing the Dormition Fast. What should I do?”
“Well,” the priest responded, “just keep the first week, and then keep second week, that should be enough.”
Is this acting a bit smart?
But there is much truth here. As we know, the Dormition Fast is just two weeks total. It’s an intense and necessary two weeks as the Church gathers together at the death bed of Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of God.
Church teaches us that is the the gesture of those whom we love is near death: we ought to stop in our tracks and gather at their bedside. Today, we find ourselves at a nursing home, CT Hospice or even the hospital.
The Apostles and those –except Thomas– with them had been scattered across the world spreading the Gospel were miraculously gathered together at the bedside of the Church’s mother to bid her farewell from this life.
This is good spiritual advice: “We ought to keep this fast as carefully and attentively as possible because we love God’s Mother. She helps us, she loves us, and with the boldness of a mother she intercedes on our behalf to her Son and our God. It is not that Christ does not know our needs, but, because that is what a loving mother does!”
Are convinced to keep the Dormition Fast? Here are a few tips:
Go to Church. Run to Church. We will be open for business. Holy Feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration always falls in the midst of the fast.
Pray. Yes, pray. That you come to Church you will surely be praying, but, consider intensifying your daily devotions. Look in your prayer books for special prayers that you can add to God’s Mother during this season. Maybe even keep it up after the 14 days!
Fast. We got the whole way to #3 without even mentioning food. Do your best to abstain from meat and dairy as you are able. The Church provides strict directives as they always do, but, work together as a family to come up with a plan. At the least, do more than you have done in the past. Have questions or concerns, ask Father Iura.
Read. Pick up for meditation the Bible; read a few paragraphs of the Catechism, “Christ Our Pascha”, read a biography of a saint: Metropolitan Sheptytsky, St. Nectarios, St. Mary of Paris; read a spiritual book like, “How to Be a Sinner” by Peter Bouteneff; read an account of the Virgin Mary’s passing and bodily assumption to heaven: “The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God” by Saint John Maximovitch. It is short only 70 pages.
The month of May is traditionally known on as the Month of Mary. The Church holds Mary in the highest esteem; she is venerated but not worshipped by Catholics and Orthodox. A Syrian Father, St Ephrem, –the Harp of the Holy Spirit– the fourth century hymnographer, theologian and deacon as something to offer about the Mother of God.
“As lightning illuminates what is hidden, so also Christ purifies what is hidden in the nature of things. He purified the Virgin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is manifest purity in all its power. He purified the Virgin, having prepared Her by the Holy Spirit… having been born, He left Her virgin. I do not say that Mary became immortal, but that being illuminated by grace, She was not disturbed by sinful desires”
“Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity… alone made in thy entirety the home of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit, and hence exceeding beyond all compare even the angelic virtues in purity and sanctity of soul and body… my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all inviolate spotless robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment… flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone most immaculate.”
“There is in you, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in your mother.”
“You Jesus and your mother are the only ones who are beautiful in all aspects. Because in you, O Lord, there is no deformation, and in your mother, there is no stain.”
“The two women were pure and simple, Mary and Eve. One of them, however, became the cause of our death and the other, the cause of our life.”
St. Ephrem the Syrian
Today the Church celebrates summit of our salvation.
The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary that she would be the Theotokos almost always falls during the Great Fast. (*) According to the liturgical norms, it is celebrated on whatever day it falls, and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, even on Good Friday. (**) The meaning of the Annunciation, however, is in conformity with the meaning of the Great Fast. The Great Fast is a journey from the sin of Adam and Eve to the Resurrection of our Lord. It is a passage from human pride to fidelity to God’s plan of salvation. The sin of Eve, which became the fundamental sin of the whole human race was to choose one’s own plan for salvation over God’s. It’s result, though, was death. Jesus in the resurrection, takes the power of death and twists it into life, as St. Paul said, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Jesus was able to do this because he became a human being in the womb of Mary, who replaced Eve’s disobedience with obedience to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)” Thus, God “condescended” (that is, he came down to be with us) so that the plan of God could be lifted up. “Though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 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” (Philippians 2:6-8). Therefore, the Annunciation is a part of Pascha, as Melito of Sardis explained in his Paschal Homily: “And indeed there were many other things proclaimed by numerous prophets concerning the mystery of the passover, which is Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.”
When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death” (65-66). We sing, “Today is the summit of our salvation.” (Troparion)