Orthodox Church honors Mary through feast days

One important way in which the Orthodox Church shows special reverence for the ever-virgin Mary is through the cycle of several feast days in her honor during the year.

On Sunday, we come to the first of these in the Orthodox Church calendar — the birth or nativity of the Holy Virgin Mary.

The story of Mary’s birth comes to us from the ancient tradition of the Church.

Her parents were Joachim and Anna, descendents of a priestly family.

Their lives were without reproach.

They practiced what they preached, giving public witness to their love of God and neighbor.

It is said that they divided their income into three parts: one part they gave to God, the other to the poor, and the final portion they used for their daily sustenance.

Theirs was a peaceful and happy marriage for some 50 years; but there was one dark cloud under whose shadow they lived, day by day — they were childless.

Often they prayed in sorrow, especially when their friends and neighbors talked about them.

Among God’s chosen people of the Old Testament, the Hebrews, it was considered some what of a shame not to have a family.

This was so because the people were expecting the promised Savior to be born, and every newly born male child brought joyful anticipation that He might have come at last.

On great feast days, Joachim was accustomed to journey to the beautiful temple in Jerusalem to worship. It was some 65 miles from his home in Nazareth.

One time he went there to bring an offering to the Lord.

But the high priest would not accept his sacrifice, saying, “The Lord has taken away His blessing from you because of your sins.”

Other people in the temple pointed fingers at him because he had no children.

Sadly and dejectedly, Joachim left the temple and went outside.

It hurt him deeply to hear all these things.

Joachim was so sad he didn’t even return home, but went to a desert place instead.

There for some 40 days it is said the Joachim prayed, fasted and wept, pouring out to God all the sadness of his heart, and beseeching the Lord to help him.

Meanwhile, Anna was in Nazareth.

She soon found out what had happen to Joachim.

A profound sorrow swept over her, too.

She went into the garden and sat under a tree.

When she saw a nest in the branches and young birds flying about, she cried: “O animals of the field, and the grass of the earth. Look upon me, Lord, and listen to my prayer.”

Suddenly an angel of God appeared saying: “Anna, the Lord has heard your plea. You shall bear a child, and she will be blessed through all the world. She will be named Mary.”

Anna was overcome with emotion at this news.

She made a promise to give her daughter to the service of God, “May she serve the Lord day and night, all the years of her life, praising His all-holy name.”

Joachim, too, heard the good news through the angelic visitor.

He made an altar and brought sacrifice in thanksgiving.

Then he went to the temple, where he met his wife Anna, and after they had prayed there together, they returned to Nazareth.

God kept His promise.

Joachim and Anna became the parents of a daughter, and they named her Mary. (In Hebrew, the name is Miriam).

All the relatives and neighbors came to rejoice at the birth of the long-desired and prayed-for child.

Our Orthodox Church remembers this birthday of Mary each year and then on the day after it, Sept. 9, the Church commemorates the memory of her good parents, Joachim and Anna.

That is the way the old stories of the Church portray the nativity of the Lord’s mother.

The various hymns of the vespers and matins services are full of beautiful poetic references to the wonder of the Virgin’s birth.

If Jesus Christ is true God of true God (and we confess He is), and if He came down to earth and became incarnate among us (and we believe this to be wonderfully true), and if the Virgin Mary is the mother who gave this God-man flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone, then it surely behooves us to sing out the major hymn of this feast.

“Your birth, O Mother of God and Virgin, has proclaimed joy to all the universe: for from you is risen the Son of Righteousness, Christ our God, who broke the curse and bestowed the blessing, who abolished death and granted us eternal life.”

The Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.

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