"Your Nativity, O Mother of God, has brought joy to all the inhabited earth, for from you has shown forth the Son of Righteousness, Christ our God. He freed us from the curse and gave the blessing: He has made death of no effect, and bestowed upon us eternal life." -- Hymn of the Feast.
The Orthodox Church year begins in September. How fitting on this Sunday, that the first great feast of the new Church year should be the nativity of the birth giver of God, the Virgin Mary.
For as the hymn of the feast implies, her birth was the beginning of our salvation, heralding the future nativity of Christ, our God who came to save us from eternal death.
The parents of the Mother of God were named Joachim and Anna. Joachim was of the lineage David, being the son of Barpaphira, who traced his ancestry to Nathan, King David's son.
Anna, her mother, was the daughter of Nathan the priest, who was of the line of Aaron. Thus the Virgin the Mother of God was both of royal and high-priestly ancestry. These facts come to us from the historical tradition of the church.
We also come to know the origins of the Mother of God through the Gospel of Matthew, who in the very first chapter traces the genealogy of Christ through St. Joseph, the Betrothed, Our Lord's foster father.
St. Matthew also provides us with the bloodline of the Mother of God because the Hebrew law stipulated that a man must take a wife of the same tribe and lineage as he. (Numbers 36:8-9)
Although she was of both royal and priestly family, the Mother of God was born in a very humble place, the little town in the land of Galilee called Nazareth, which was subject to the city of Capernaum. The name Nazareth means a blossoming place.
Joachim and Anna lived righteously. It is said that they gave one-third of their income to God's temple, one-third to the poor, and only kept the last third for themselves.
They were blessed by God in every way but one: They had no children. The Hebrew people believed that childlessness was a curse from God, which resulted from the sins of the couple. Children were greatly desired by every Hebrew family because each eagerly hoped to produce the coming Messiah.
Of course Joachim and Anna were greatly saddened by the fact that they had no child. This sadness was intensified by the insults and slurs, which they endured from their neighbors and fellow Nazarenes.
Once in old age, Joachim traveled the 65 miles from his home to the temple in Jerusalem in order to offer a sacrifice to God. However, the priest there, who knew of his childlessness, refused his offering and drove him out of the temple.
Joachim, bitterly grieving, left the city and spent 40 days in the wilderness in fasting and prayer, hoping that somehow God would console him. His wife, hearing what had happened to him, also mourned and wept asking God for his almighty help.
Both were answered by an angelic visitor who announced to them that they were to bear a daughter who would be blessed by all the world. Overcome by joy and thanksgiving, they consecrated her to the Lord from the moment of her birth.
This daughter would become the living Ark of God, the temple of the most high, more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare, more glorious than the seraphim!
She said yes
In celebrating the nativity of the Virgin Mary, we bring to truth and life the words of the Mother of God in the Gospel of St. Luke: "All generations shall call me blessed." (Luke 1:48)
We join with the multitude of saints and Orthodox Christians who, in every age, have offered their love to the Mother of God for choosing to become the instrument of our salvation. Although her birth occurred in a miraculous manner, this does not in any way lessen the fact that she was born human, like all of us, subject to the oppression of this fallen world.
She, as a free person, had a choice in the matter of becoming the Mother of God, and she chose to say "yes" when she just as easily could have refused.
Her free affirmation of the tidings of the Archangel Gabriel set in motion events that would culminate in the holy days of which we sing: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is the pastor at St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.