12th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Nativity of the Theotokos

Today we joyfully keep the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Joachim and Ana, the parents of Mary the Birthgiver of God, were of the royal house of David, lived holy and God-fearing lives. The hymnody for the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos invites us to consider the manner in which God chose this woman to accomplish His will for the salvation of the world even as we ponder the great Mystery revealed, the manner in which God is glorified in His Saints, and what it all means for those of us working out our salvation.

Joachim and Ana’s lineage can be traced back to the beginning of time.  As St. Gregory Palamas reminds us, even from the sons of Adam, God was already beginning His work to bring about the Incarnation, so intense is His love and mercy for us.  What is it then about this lineage that is most important as a preparation for the birth of the Theotokos, and, in turn, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, God incarnate?  It’s an often forgotten word in today’s culture, chastity. When some hear the word, “chastity” in today’s over-sexed culture, the world thinks ‘prudishness,’ but this interpretation couldn’t be further from the truth: Joachim and Ana loved each other with a pure love. United together as “one flesh” in holy matrimony before God, their love was chaste, faithful, God-pleasing, as is often depicted in the icon of the two in an embrace.  


Their chastity is characterized by this faithfulness to God and to each other.  But in their old age, there was no ‘fruit’ of that union; Ana was barren.  At the time, barrenness bore a tremendous stigma: it was assumed that Ana or Joachim must have been great sinners if God withheld children from them.  Children were not, as is often the case today, seen as a nuisance interfering with a couples’ fun. Rather, children were seen as a gift from God; the more you had, the greater your blessing.  The lineage of Joachim and Ana, then, consists of righteousness, faith in the living God, the One who works wonders, a God of great miracles.  St. Gregory Palamas says of this miracle of their conception, “They were childless, but lived chastely together, and were more virtuous than all those who traced back their noble descent and character to David.  With asceticism and prayer, they begged God to deliver them from childlessness, and promised to dedicate to Him from infancy the child to be born to them.  She who is now the Mother of God was promised and given to them by God as their daughter, that the girl with every virtue might be born of virtuous parents…” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 52).

Together with chastity, the hymnody of the Feast reminds us of the virtue of virginity and the unique miracle that will take place when the Virgin Mary conceives her Son and God: “Today the barren gates are opened and the virgin Door of God comes forth.  Today grace begins to bear its first fruits, making manifest ot the world the Mother of God, through whom things on earth are joined with heaven, for the salvation of our souls.” (Stichera, Great Vespers of the Feast)

Here the image of the Virgin Mother of God is as “the gate that only the King will enter and yet keeps it closed, as we hear in another stichera verse from Vespers, “She is the only gateway of the Only-begotten Son of God, who passed through this gate, yet kept it closed…” This the prophesy from Ezekiel read at Great Vespers for the Feast, “Then He brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sancturary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut; Then said the Lord unto me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut….”


What this is drawing our attention to is the calling in our own lives for purity and growth in holiness.  Mary the Mother of God was deemed a fitting dwelling place for the Lord, for the God of the universe, for her Creator.  She is, therefore, the first ‘fruit’ of salvation, the Mother of the Church. She is the one who in her inward and outward appearance reveals what humility and wholeness look like—the model of godly womanhood, of all that is truly feminine. She is the one who, with God’s help, acquires the virtues we’re all striving to attain thru deification. We’re to emulate her in every way. So that, as she is like her Son, we too, may grow in unity with Him and be found worthy to one day attain to His eternal Kingdom with her and all the Saints.

We never strive alone.  The Holy Spirit assists us, our holy guardian angels protect us, and the Virgin Mother prays and intercedes for us.  On this day, we give thanks to God for the miracle of our holy Mother’s birth, the example to us of godly womanhood, but also of godly humanity.  We all strive to emulate her humble “yes” to God just as we hear in the Theotokion of the Feast, 

“On this solemn day of our feast let us strike the spiritual harp; for today is born of the seed of David the Mother of Life, who destroys the darkness.  She is the restoration of Adam and the recalling of Eve, the fountain of incorruption and the release from corruption: through her we have been made godlike and delivered from death.  Let us, the faithful, cry to her with Gabriel, ‘Hail, thou who art full of grace: the Lord is with thee, through thee granting us great mercy.’”

 Offer Christ God today what you need to be furthered in the life He alone is, asking our Holy Mother to pray with you and intercede for you.  She is quick to hear you who have kept her feast.  Make no mistake, our prayers will be heard, and we’ll be furthered in our faith and communion with God the Holy Trinity this day.

Holy Mother, on this day we keep the Feast of your holy Nativity.  Intercede for us before your Son and our God, that He may hear our prayers and save our souls!