We celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary on September 8 as the first big festival of the Byzantine liturgical year, which began on September 1. All icons of this feast show the elderly but happy parents, SS. Joachim and Anne, and the birth is usually presented in a cozy family setting of women attendants bustling around Saint Anne. Saint Joachim is either peeking into the women’s quarter, or next to his wife. The infant Virgin was born in a normal manner, as is shown by St Anne reclining on the birthing-bed, and the baby being washed by the midwife in the lower front of the icon. Bright colors are used because of the joy that all Creation feels in its coming deliverance from Christ Who will find life in her.
St Joachim and St Anne give thanks for their newly born daughter, Our Blessed Lady
In the legends about this event, the parents are presented as elderly and childless, and an angel tells them separately that they will finally have a child, a girl who will be the mother of the Messiah. This follows along with other biblical stories about conceptions of children after long years of prayer, including Isaac, Samuel, and St John the Baptist. Saint Anne, however, is different from the other mothers, because her child will become the virginal dwelling place of God Incarnate!
The child is given the name Mary, or Miriam, which is translated as hope. Indeed, she is the hope of all the nations of the world who labored under the power of sin and its darkness. In Exodus, Miriam saved the life of her baby brother, Moses, who would lead his people out of Egypt and darkness and into the Promised Land of milk and honey. This Miriam will do far more – her Son will lead all people out of their spiritual darkness and into the true light.
The traditional date for the Conception of our Lady is not December 8, but the 9th. Why? In the East, the Churches wanted to make the point that though she is “all holy, most pure, the blessed and ever-glorious Virgin” she is still a human being. Thus, the pregnancy is not a perfect nine months. That is reserved only for Christ our true God. The Latin Church though put it on the 8th, as over-emphasis on the perfection of our Lady I think. Which leads to something I’ve pondered – what was it like for her to live sinless and all pure in a hardscrabble little place like Nazareth, of which one apostle said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It obviously was not a hidden life in the Temple – that is pure spiritual fantasy invented by Syrian Christians. As she grew up, she constantly lived in the awareness of God, like our first parents with whom God would come to walk in the cool of the evening, as recorded in Genesis. And obviously everyone figured out pretty quickly that this little girl never disobeyed, avoided her chores, talked back, took what was not hers, or gossiped. Joseph surely thought that he was the luckiest man on earth when he proposed marriage to her parents and they accepted. She was not the best girl in that part of Palestine – she was the best girl in the whole world!
The child Mary and her parents – she holds a three-petal flower in honor of the Holy Trinity. She also wears blue for humanity, and red for divinity, because she will become the Theotokos, the Mother of God, when the Word descends into her womb at the Annunciation.
Given Nazareth’s bad reputation, she obviously faced many temptations. The 4th century Christians solved the crisis by putting her inside the Temple, close to the Living God in the Holy of Holies. Instead she loved the Living God in the very fallen world of first-century Palestine. The devil must have hated her, knowing her destiny, and sought to dissuade her from the Lover of her soul. But she held firm, unlike Adam and Eve, to the very end of her life when God united her body and soul after her death. A singular honor for a singular human being. And her parents, traditionally called Joachim and Anne, must have been extraordinary people who helped her do this, giving her a firm foundation in not only Judaism, but in resisting temptation and loving God above all else.
Rejoice O Bride and Virgin pure – the whole sum of Eastern Christian theology of our Lady can be found in this chant:
The update is that, once again, this spot has been empty for a long while. I went through some pretty hard weeks again, but God has been good to me in these things:
1. Allowing me to suffer for the sake of souls and His glory, imperfect wretch that I remain, and one who so often fails to reach up enough to His always-stretched-out hand.
2. Granting me means of relief for the worst of the physical suffering, through the excellent team of doctors I have been blessed with. Dr. Doug Barrett diagnosed the pressure in my neck at bulging disks on the ulnar nerves; Dr. Craig Nairn did a cervical injection of an epidural that is helping substantially there; Dr. Jim Tryon continues to monitor me and help me. Three of the best docs in New Mexico.
3. With regular epidurals in the neck, we are hoping that I get relief in my arms, hands, and fingers. Blessed Theodore Romzha continues to respond to the fervent prayers I offered in front of his body in Uzhhorod: Help me so that I can write and teach about Christ and our Church.
I will probably never be pain free, especially as I am heading for 60 and this body continually comes up with new surprises. And life continues to give me opportunities for other kinds of pain. But the first one does help with the second.
But like Saint Paul, who had his own thorns in the flesh, that keeps me humble and dependent upon God Who is the source for my life and work. Thank you for your prayers, and may I be able to do more postings now and more work for Christ’s Church!