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The Nativity of the Theotokos
September 8th - The First Great Feast of the Year
All of us have met or known about special people, men and women who stand out as being good, loving, useful members of the human race. And if we think about how those people became the way they are, we might say, "They must have had good parents."
So it is with the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. We know that she is a very special person, chosen by God to be the mother of His Son. When we celebrate her nativity, which means birth, we also celebrate her parents, Joachim and Anna. We are grateful to Mary for being so ready to do God's will. We are grateful to her parents, who raised her to be faithful and obedient to God.
The story of Mary's birth does not appear in the Bible. We know the story from other writings which are not part of the New Testament. These writings are still used by the Church, and they tell us about some of God's people and the things that happened to them.
It is in these writings that we meet Joachim and Anna. They were a loving couple, faithful to God and devoted to each other. But the long years of their marriage had never brought them a child. They prayed daily for the blessing of a son or daughter, but the years went by and no child was born.
In the Hebrew society of Joachim and Anna's time, the greatest of all earthly blessings was to have many children. So, as you might guess, not having any children was a very big problem. People looked at a couple with no children as having failed to earn God's favor. In fact, we are told that one day when Joachim went to worship and make an offering to God, he was turned away because he was not a father, and therefore he was not worthy to make an offering. There was nothing Joachim could do but go slowly and sadly back home.
You can imagine how painful it was for Joachim and Anna to live without children. They watched their friends rejoice when babies were born, laughing and playing with them. They saw others have the joy and pride that comes with watching children grow up and start lives of their own.
Yet Joachim and Anna did not blame God. They did not resent their friends' happiness as parents. They patiently waited and prayed, and God did something nobody would expect. When Anna and Joachim were old, He gave them a child. And she was not just any child. She was to have the most wonderful destiny that any human being has ever had: she would be the Theotokos, the Birthgiver, the Mother of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our loving God is so careful of our freedom that He did not come to us in a flashy and overwhelming miracle. He sought human cooperation, and that came in the person of a young woman who lived in worldly circumstances of poverty and powerlessness. The young woman faced the brutal possibility that she would be stoned to death for fornication. Her willingness to face that hard reality, to cooperate with God's will, came from her faith.
She had faith that all would be as the angel Gabriel promised her it would. So she said to him, "Let it be." With those words, she consented to God's plan for our salvation. How could we not honor her, above all other saints, when it is her co-operation that puts God's plan into action?
Mary was not forced or obligated to consent to God's plan. She could have said "no." She is our model, born with free will as we all are, of one who chose to say "yes" to God, as we can also do.
Excerpts from OCA’s Focus Unit “The Theotokos” at http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/13-17/