9 December OS 2020 – The Conception of the Theotokos by St. Anna
Today we celebrate the conception of the Most Pure Virgin Theotokos in the womb of St. Anna, who by her husband St. Joachim conceived in great old age after a lifetime of barrenness, by the will of God.
The Gospel reading for today’s Feast is Luke 8: 16-21 –
The Lord said: No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
These words of Our Lord apply most fittingly to His holy grandparents. Their virtues were hidden for many years before being made known – their prayer, their almsgiving, their fervent trust in God in the midst of their great sorrow – and they were derided by their neighbors for being childless, for many of the Jews (especially those who belonged to the sect of the Sadducees, which included the priestly and aristocratic classes) had no belief in eternal life, thinking that immortality meant only living on through one’s descendants and believing therefore also that childlessness meant that one was cursed by God.
The Lord in His great wisdom indicated two things through His miraculously giving St. Anna the ability to conceive by her husband in her old age: He indicated that the Holy Virgin so conceived was His elect vessel, chosen for a very specific role in the salvation of mankind, and He indicated that Ss. Joachim and Anna were not cursed but indeed blessed above all others before them, for their hope and courage were greatly rewarded, indeed rewarded beyond all expectation: they became the parents not simply of a saint but of the flower of the human race, of the human person who, in the expression of St. Gregory Palamas, stands at the boundary of the created and the uncreated realms, the Mother of God Incarnate, who is more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.
We cannot compare our level of piety to that of Ss. Joachim and Anna. Their example, however, does give us hope, for often we feel that we labor for our salvation in isolation, and that no one understands us. There are those who not only do not understand our Faith but also believe that we are bad somehow for practicing it! When we try to help them by telling them the truth about God or morality or society or any other important topic, they may even hate us somehow for it, recalling St. Paul’s experience with the Galatians when trying to correct them: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? (Galatians 4:16).” But we must remember that their hatred should cause us not to hate them in return, but rather to grieve over them, for they are trapped by their fallen nature, fallen human society, and the fallen spirits. The degree of their anger reflects the corresponding degree of their misery.
Let us, therefore, pray to Ss. Joachim and Anna when we are experiencing spiritual loneliness, when no one, even perhaps our Orthodox brethren and relatives, seems to sympathize with our spiritual struggles. The Lord sees, and the Lord will judge! “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest…” Let us only humble ourselves and be faithful, as they were faithful in their loneliness.
I would also ask everyone to pray to our dear St. Anna that she will, in particular, intercede with her divine Grandson to send good spouses to our children. It is so hard today to find the right person to marry, the person who will help us find our salvation! St. Anna, pray to God for us!