The Holy Anna, Mother of the Theotokos

Today we liturgically recall the Dormition of Saint Anna, Mother of the Most Holy God-bearer Theotokos –the grandmother of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel, and made a lamentation in herself, saying: Alas! Who begot me? And what womb produced me? Because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before You, O Lord. …. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world” (Protoevangelium of James, 3,4).

The story of Anna giving birth is found only in the apocryphal work, the Protoevangelium of St. James. The story, though, is the great tradition of Abraham and Sarah, where their childlessness was taken away in old age. This is true also of Zachary and Elizabeth – for those who were barren, Hod bestows an abundance of blessings, the giving of birth to people who are most important for our salvation.

St. Paul comments on this in today’s epistle, “For it is written: ‘Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children; break forth and shout, you who were not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the deserted one than of her who has a husband’” (Galatians 4:27). This is truly the hallmark of God’s saving action. Those who seem abandoned are those whom God blesses the most. Therefore, the greatest sin we can commit is despair, thinking that God cannot save us. Peter denied Christ, Judas betrayed Christ, but Peter wept in hope and Judas wallowed in despair. Today’s feast tells us that God never abandons those who put their faith in him.

Blessed is Anna, who became the grandmother of God!

Synaxis of the Theotokos

Many Byzantine feasts have a commemoration on the day after a great feast called a “synaxis,” that is, an “assembly” or “gathering” in honor of one who participated in the feast. No more honorable person could ever be found than the holy Lady, the Mother of God.

This feast of her Synaxis was actually the most ancient, the first, celebration of her memory on the church calendar, because her giving birth to the Son of God was truly her greatest glory. It was by her free will, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38),” that our God and Creator became one of us. It was certainly her joy that she gave birth to this child, but we commemorate on this day all the suffering she bore because of her choice, the near repudiation by Joseph, the persecution of her son by Herod, causing them to flee for their lives to Egypt, until, at the end, she had to endure seeing her beloved son crucified as a common criminal on the cross. So Simeon the prophet told her, “ “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)” Truly, she became by her suffering an intercessor with her Son.

We must ask if we are prepared, as St. Paul, who wrote “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body. (Colossians 1:24)” We also have the comfort of knowing, if we unite our will with that of Mary, that we, too, can become bearers of God through Communion in his Body and Blood by our own free will.

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)

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

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