Friday, December 5, 2014


Joachim and Anna were without children.  In Jewish tradition, childlessness was seen as a curse from God.  When Joachim went to the Temple to bring an offering, he was publicly reproached by the elders.  In shame, Joachim went off to the desert to pray. Anna, fearing Joachim was dead and lamenting her shame at being childless, was weeping and praying in the garden.  An angel appeared to her and told her she would have a child.  She was so overjoyed, she promised to dedicate the child to the service of the Lord.  At the same moment, an angel appeared to Joachim to tell him that Anna would have a child.  Joachim got up and ran immediately back to Anna.  They met each other at the Temple Gate and embraced with love.  Anna knew immediately that she would bear a daughter “whose name would be proclaimed throughout the world and through whom all nations would be blessed.”  The feast celebrates two main ideas:  Mary was conceived without sin because God was preparing her to be the Mother of His Son Jesus. The vocation of marriage lived in love reflects the love of God for all creation.


The love between Joachim and Anna is revealed to us through the Icon.  Their embrace shows their devotion to each other and to God.  Both Joachim and Anna incline their heads to each other and their faces touch as a symbol of their reverence for each other.  There are two houses in the Icon, one behind Joachim and one behind Anna.  Both the doors and windows are wide open symbolizing the openness between husband and wife and the openness between humanity and God.  A red banner draped between the roofs connects the two houses: another symbol of separation overcome—between man and woman, but also between humanity and the Creator.  Joachim means “The Lord will judge.”  Anna means “Divine Grace.”


Pope Pius IX, on December 8, 1854, declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, ‘ex cathedra’ which means it is infallible.  All Catholics believe that Mary, as the Mother of God, was granted a special grace by God and was conceived without original sin. The Virgin Mary was always filled with every blessing and gift of the Holy Spirit in whose grace she certainly grew throughout her life.  Though born without original sin, according to the view of the Eastern Fathers, she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam -- from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.
 In our Church, we celebrate the Conception and Birth of three people:  St. John the Baptist, Mary, the Mother of God and Jesus Christ. The Conception of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on September 23 and his birth date is June 24. In the Byzantine Rite, the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 9 and the birth date of Mary is September 8. March 25, the Annunciation, is the Conception date for Jesus and his birth date is December 25. The theological significance of these dates is that only Jesus, who is the Son of God, has a perfect nine months between Conception and Birth.


The feast widely known as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated in the Eastern Church on December 9 as the Feast of the Conception of Saint Ann. This feast commemorates Saint Anne’s conception of Mary, the Mother of God.  In the United States of America the Ukrainian Catholic Church celebrates this feast on December 8.
 The writings of the early Church tell us that Mary’s parents, Joachim and Ann, had lived devoutly in marriage for fifty years and had prayed earnestly for a child.  The Lord God answered their prayers by allowing Ann to conceive a child who would be the mother of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
 The Ukrainian Catholic liturgical tradition venerates the Most Holy Mother of God as "All-Immaculate" and "Most Immaculate”.  We say that she was immaculately conceived in the sense that, from the moment of her conception, she was free of all sin and had no propensity to sin.  (Mankind’s propensity to sin was one of the legacies of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace.)  The Western Church, on the other hand, defined the Virgin Mary's "Immaculate Conception" to say that she was, from the first moment of her conception, preserved free from the "stain of original sin."
The difference between the Western and Eastern traditions in this regard lies precisely in the nature of Original Sin itself. The West follows St. Augustine’s view that we inherit not only the effects of Original Sin (illness, pain, death, propensity to sin), but also the "stain" of the sin itself. The Eastern Church places its attention on the process by which God shares His divine nature with human beings. In choosing disobedience, Adam broke his union with God, making it impossible to fulfill his nature.  This was the Original Sin: Adam’s rejection of the only true life given to him by God. (It was only through Christ that humanity could be reunited with the Father.) The Eastern Fathers understood Original Sin only in terms of the inherited impact of this sin upon humanity. They would see it as impossible for someone to inherit the actual stain or guilt of a sin committed by another, even if it was the forefather Adam.
We are therefore not born with any stain of a sin committed by someone else, but only with the effects of that sin.   Adam’s personal sin resulted in death for all his descendants, the experience of concupiscence and the propensity to be tempted and to sin. According to the faith of the Eastern Church, the Mother of God never had any sin, original or actual, on her soul.  The Church has always believed that Mary was preserved from original sin by a "singular grace and privilege" given her by God "in view of the merits of Jesus Christ" as Redeemer of the human race. Mary, like every other human being, needed the redemptive benefits of Christ; but, in anticipation of what God did for all through Christ, she alone was preserved from original sin "from the first moment of her conception," and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.
The Virgin Mary was always filled with every blessing and gift of the Holy Spirit in whose grace she certainly grew throughout her life.  Though born without original sin, according to the view of the Eastern Fathers, she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam -- from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.


Our liturgical tradition also provides us with catechesis. Here are the verses sung at Vespers, which tell us the symbolism and the importance of  this feast – The Conception of Saint Anne

  • The barren Anna leaped for joy when she gave birth to Mary the Virgin, who in turn will give birth in the flesh to God the Word.  Overflowing with happiness, she cried out: Rejoice with me, all tribes of Israel, for I have conceived and put aside my burden of childlessness as the Creator has deigned. He heard my prayer and healed the pains of my yearning heart.
  • O Anna, the One who made waters gush forth from a rock bestows as a fruit of your womb, the ever-Virgin Lady. Through her, our salvation will come. Because of this you were delivered from shame. No longer will you be on earth as a fruitless soil, for you have produced an earth which will bring forth the Tree of Life. According to His will, He delivered mankind from all shame when He became man out of His compassionate mercy.
  • The sayings of the prophets are now being fulfilled: the holy mountain is planted in the womb; the divine ladder is set up; the throne of the great king is ready; the God-inspired city is being adorned. The unburnable bush is beginning to bud forth, and the treasure house of grace is overflowing. It is spreading over the rivers of unfruitfulness of the God-wise Anna whom we glorify.
  • Today the mystery which has been announced from eternity, whose depth angels and men cannot measure, appears in the arms of Anna. Mary, the maiden of God is prepared to be the dwelling of the Kings of the ages who will renew our human nature. Let us entreat her with a pure heart and say: Since you are the intercessor for all Christians, implore your Son and God to save our souls.
  • It is fitting that the Queen of heaven and earth, who is more precious than the Cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, be conceived and remain immaculate as the angels, so that they who are servants of the Lord can boast of their own Queen, the Mother of God. Glory and praise to the Lord who willed it so, the Creator of all things.
  • It is fitting that the unique and chosen woman be conceived without sin, and the power of Satan is now taken away; for the Mother of God will never bow before him. Glory and praise to the Lord who willed it so, the Creator of all things.
  • It is fitting that the Second Eve be created and remain without sin in the manner of the Second Adam; for the rebirth of mankind now takes place, just as the fall came through the first Adam and the first Eve. Christ has renewed all through his new birth, and it was Mary that gave birth to Him. Glory and praise to the Lord who willed it so, the Creator of all things.
  • Anna, whose name means divine grace, once cried out in her prayer, asking for a child. She invoked the God and Creator of all, saying: Lord of Hosts, You know what shame it is to be barren. Heal the pains of my heart. Make my fruitless womb fruitful so that we may offer to You the child who is born as a gift, and that with one mind, we may bless, praise, and glorify Your love through which the world obtains great mercy.
  • Anna was praying with great fervor, beseeching the Lord for a child, when she heard the voice of an angel who told her that God had granted her wish, saying plainly: Do not doubt, for your prayer has reached the Lord. Wipe away your tears, for you shall be an olive tree bringing forth a beautiful branch. You will bring forth the Virgin from whom will blossom the flower, Christ-in-the-flesh, who will grant great mercy to the world.
  • Joachim and Anna, the righteous couple, gave birth to the precious heavenly fruit, the ewe-lamb, who in turn will give birth in a manner beyond understanding to the Lamb of God who is to be sacrificed for all. Because of this, they offer to the Lord an unceasing and humble hymn of praise. Let us, therefore, praise them with fervor. And let us joyfully celebrate the birth of the One who was born of them, Mary, the Mother of God; because through her, great mercy is granted to all of us. 

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