THE CONCEPTION BY ST. ANNA OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
The Conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos, Hannah the Righteous, mother of Samuel the Prophet, Narses the Martyr of Persia, The Consecration of the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) in the Holy City of Jerusalem
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS 4:22-27
Brethren, Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married.”
The Lord said, "No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.
Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was the youngest daughter of the priest Nathan from Bethlehem, descended from the tribe of Levi. She married Saint Joachim (September 9), who was a native of Galilee.
For a long time Saint Anna was childless, but after twenty years, through the fervent prayer of both spouses, an angel of the Lord announced to them that they would be the parents of a daughter, Who would bring blessings to the whole human race.
The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching that the Mother of God was exempted from the consequences of ancestral sin (death, corruption, sin, etc.) at the moment of her conception by virtue of the future merits of Her Son. Only Christ was born perfectly holy and sinless, as Saint Ambrose of Milan teaches in Chapter Two of his Commentary on Luke. The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in Her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although She committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, She would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from Her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibilty of our salvation is in doubt.
The Conception of the Virgin Mary by Saint Anna took place at Jerusalem. The many icons depicting the Conception by Saint Anna show the Most Holy Theotokos trampling the serpent underfoot.
“In the icon Saints Joachim and Anna are usually depicted with hands folded in prayer; their eyes are also directed upward and they contemplate the Mother of God, Who stands in the air with outstretched hands; under Her feet is an orb encircled by a serpent (symbolizing the devil), which strives to conquer all the universe by its power.”
There are also icons in which Saint Anna holds the Most Holy Virgin on her left arm as an infant. On Saint Anna’s face is a look of reverence. A large ancient icon, painted on canvas, is located in the village of Minkovetsa in the Dubensk district of Volhynia diocese. From ancient times this Feast was especially venerated by pregnant women in Russia.
The Holy Prophetess Hannah dwelt in marriage with Elkanah, but she was childless. Elkanah took to himself another wife, Phennena, who bore him children. Hannah grieved strongly over her misfortune, and every day she prayed for an end to her barrenness, and vowed to dedicate her child to God.
Once, as she prayed fervently in the Temple, the priest Heli thought that she was drunk, and he began to reproach her. But the saint poured out her grief, and after she received a blessing, she returned home. After this Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel (which means “Asked from God”).
When the child reached the age of boyhood, the mother herself presented him to the priest Heli, and Samuel remained with him to serve before the Tabernacle (1 Kings/1 Samuel 2: 1-21).
Saint Sophronius, Archbishop of Cyprus, was born into a Christian family on Cyprus, and he studied many sciences, but most of all he devoted himself to the reading of Holy Scripture. He became so accomplished in piety and good works, that he was granted the gift of wonderworking by the Lord. Following the death of Saint Damian, bishop of Cyprus, Saint Sophronius was chosen to replace him. As bishop, he proved himself a true father to his flock.
Saint Stephen the “New Light” was born at Constantinople in 838 and received a fine education. Under Patriarch Methodius, Stephen received monastic tonsure and shut himself in a cell attached to the church of Saint Peter in Constantinople. Later he went into seclusion, and over fifty years he constantly increased his ascetic efforts.
Toward the end of his life the saint acquired great grace from the Lord, shining in the constellation of the saints like the ancient ascetics of the Orthodox Church, so that he came to be called the “New Light.” According to the Prologue, he died in the year 912 and was buried in the church of Saint Antipas.
The “Unexpected Joy” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is painted in this way: in a room is an icon of the Mother of God, and beneath it a youth is kneeling at prayer. The tradition about the healing of some youth from a bodily affliction through this holy icon is recorded in the book of Saint Demetrius of Rostov, The Fleece of Prayer [See Judges 6: 36-40].
The sinful youth, who was nevertheless devoted to the Theotokos, was praying one day before the icon of the All-Pure Virgin before going out to commit a sin. Suddenly, he saw that wounds appeared on the Lord’s hands, feet, and side, and blood flowed from them. In horror he exclaimed, “O Lady, who has done this?” The Mother of God replied, “You and other sinners, because of your sins, crucify My Son anew.” Only then did he realize how great was the depth of his sinfulness. For a long time he prayed with tears to the All-Pure Mother of God and the Savior for mercy. Finally, he received the unexpected joy of the forgiveness of his sins.
The “Unexpected Joy” icon is also commemorated on January 25 and May 1.
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