THE NATIVITY OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY THE THEOTOKOS AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY
The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, Sophronios, Bishop of Iberia
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11
Brethren, have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
LUKE 10:38-42, 11:27-28
At that time, Jesus entered a village; and a woman called Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary: The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born at a time when people had reached such a degree of moral decay that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. People often said that God must come into the world to restore faith and not permit the ruin of mankind.
The Son of God chose to take on human nature for the salvation of mankind, and chose as His Mother the All-Pure Virgin Mary, who alone was worthy to give birth to the Source of purity and holiness.
The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since Saint Anna was barren.
Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God’s mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Saints Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.
Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Saints Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.
Saint Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. Saint Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God’s mercy on her family.
The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.
The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: “the East Gate… bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls” (2nd Stikhera on “Lord, I Have Cried”, Tone 6).
The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.
The Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God “Of the Sign” is one of the most ancient icons of the Russian Church. In the thirteenth century during the Tatar invasion, when all the Russian realm was put to the extremest tribulation, the city of Kursk, ravaged by the Horde of Batu, fell into desolation.
One day in the environs of the city a hunter noticed the ancient icon, lying on a root face downwards to the ground. The hunter lifted it and saw that the image of the icon was similar to the Novgorod “Znamenie” Icon. With the appearance of this icon immediately there appeared its first miracle. Just as the hunter lifted up the holy icon from the earth, right then, at that place where the icon lay, gushed up strongly a spring of pure water. This occurred on September 8, 1259. The hunter decided not to leave the icon in the forest and settled on as a resting place an ancient small chapel, in which he put the newly-appeared image of the Theotokos. Soon inhabitants of the city of Ryl’a heard about this, and being in location not far away, they began to visit the place of the appearance for venerating the new holy image.
They transferred the icon to Ryl’a and put it in a new church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. But the icon did not long remain there. It disappeared and returned to its former place of appearance. The inhabitants of Ryl’a repeatedly took it and carried it to the city, but the icon incomprehensibly returned to its former place. Everyone then realized, that the Theotokos preferred the place of appearance of Her Icon. The special help granted by the Mother of God through this icon is bound up with important events in Russian history: with the war of liberation of the Russian nation during the Polish-Lithuanian incursion in 1612, and the 1812 Fatherland war. From the icon several copies were made, which also were glorified.
In the year 1340, two monks came and settled in a cave on the hill where the monastery is now located. After reading his usual Prayer Rule, one of them went to the top of the hill, and and suddenly he beheld the Theotokos standing on a rock and enveloped in flames. He summoned the other monk, who also witnessed the miracle. A third witness of the vision was the shepherd John Bosoy. He ran to the hill, and the three of them glorified God. The Most Holy Theotokos left the imprint of her right foot on the stone where she had stood, and this filled up with water. Since that time, many people have been healed at this miraculous spring.
In 1559 Metropolitan Neophytus of Constantinople, on his journey through Volhynia, visited the noblewoman Anna Goiskaya living at the estate of Orlya, not far from Pochaev. As a farewell blessing he left Anna an icon of the Mother of God which he brought from Constantinople. They began to notice a radiance coming from the icon. In 1597 Anna’s brother Philip was healed of an ailment before the eyes of a monk who lived on the hill at Pochaev. She then gave the wonderworking image to the monk. The icon was placed in a church which was built in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. A monastery was later established there, and Anna Goiskaya provided a large portion of the money needed for construction.
The following is one of the more famous accounts of help from the Queen of Heaven through her wonderworking Pochaev Icon.
A monk of Pochaev monastery was taken into captivity by the Tatars. Held as a slave, he thought of the Pochaev monastery, its holy things, the divine services, and the church singing. In particular the monk yearned to be in Pochaev for the approaching Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. He prayed tearfully to the Mother of God for deliverance from captivity, and suddenly, through the prayers of the Holy Virgin, the walls of the dungeon disappeared, and the monk found himself standing before the walls of the Pochaev monastery.
The Pochaev Icon is also celebrated on Friday of Bright Week and on July 23.
The Kholm Icon of the Mother of God, by a tradition transmitted through Bishop James the Emaciated, was painted by the Evangelist Luke. It was brought from Greece to Russia in the time of Saint Vladimir, who after Baptism received many icons as a gift from Constantinople.
The Kholm image of the Mother of God is rendered on a board of cypress wood. In the year 1261 at the time of an invasion of the Tatar (Mongol) Horde, the city of Kholm was pillaged, and the icon of the Theotokos also suffered: the jeweled frame was taken, the painting damaged and the icon itself thrown down. After an hundred years the holy icon was relocated and solemnly placed in the Kholm cathedral. On the icon there remain two deep gashes: one on the left shoulder of the Theotokos, the other on Her right hand. There is a tradition that the invading Tatars were punished after they plundered and damaged the holy icon. They lost their sight, and their faces became distorted. Accounts of the miraculous signs worked by the Kholm Icon of the Mother of God, are recorded in a book by Archimandrite Joannicius (Golyatovsky) entitled THE NEW HEAVEN.
The Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God (Kiev), occupies an unique place in the Russian Orthodox Church. On the icon is depicted the Theotokos, and the Hypostatic Wisdom, the Son of God incarnate of Her.
In Wisdom or Sophia, ponders the Son of God, about Whom in the Proverbs of Solomon it says: “Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars” (9:1). These words refer to Christ, the Son of God, Who in the Epistles of Saint Paul is called “Wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:30), and the word “house” refers to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, of Whom the Son of God is incarnate.
The arrangement of the icon bears witness to the fulfillment of this prophecy. On the Kiev icon of Sophia is a church, and standing there is the Mother of God in a robe with a veil on her head, under an archway of seven pillars. The palms of Her hands are outstretched, and her feet are set upon a crescent moon. The Theotokos holds the Pre-eternal Christ Child, blessing with Her right hand, and holding the Infant with Her left.
On the cornice of the entrance are inscribed the words from the Book of Proverbs: “Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars.” Over the entrance are depicted God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. From the mouth of God the Father issues the words: “I am affirmation of Her footsteps.”
Along both sides the seven Archangels are depicted with outstretched wings, holding in their hands symbols of their duties. On the right side: Michael with flaming sword; Uriel with a lightning flash hurling downwards; Raphael with alabaster vessel of myrrh. On the left side: Gabriel with a lily blossom; Selaphiel with a scale; Jerudiel with royal crown; and Barachiel with flowers on a white shawl.
Under a cloud with the crescent moon, serving as a footrest for the Mother of God, is a staircase with seven steps (depicting the Church of God on earth). Those standing on the seven steps are the Old Testament witnesses of the manifestation of Wisdom, the Forefathers and the Prophets.
On each of the seven steps are inscribed: faith, hope, love, purity, humility, blessedness, glory. The seven steps of the staircase are set upon the seven pillars, on which images are inscribed, and their explanation taken from the Apocalypse.
The Syamsk Icon of the Mother of God was found at the Syamsk-Vologda monastery, established in the sixteenth century. In the year 1542, during a fire at the monastery, only the wonderworking icon was saved. After the fire, the monastery was rebuilt.
In the year 1770, a church was built at the monastery in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, and in it was placed this wonderworking icon.
The Glinsk Icon of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos appeared in the seventeenth century in the Glinsk wilderness of the Kursk region. A monastery was established in 1648 and received its name from the noble Glinsky family.
The Domnitsa Icon of the Mother of God appeared in the year 1696 on the bank of the Domnitsa River in Chernigov diocese, not far from the city of Berezna. At the place of appearance of the icon a monastery was established, in which was situated the wonderworking image. In the year 1771 the inhabitants of the city prayed before the holy icon and were delivered from plague through the intercession of the Theotokos.
The Isaakov Icon of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos appeared in the year 1659, not far from the village of Isaakievo. The peasants wanted to take the icon to their own village, but they were not able. They then turned to the priest, and he got vested, and in the company of choir and people with church banners, went to the place of the appearance of the icon of the Mother of God.
In the branches of a willow tree was the icon, radiating an extraordinary light like the sun. After the singing of a Molieben the priest reverently took the icon with the tree branch and carried it to the Isaakievo village into the parish church.
On the following day the icon was not in the church. It was at the place where it was first found. At this place of the appearance of the wonderworking icon they built a chapel, around which a skete was formed.
With the blessing of Saint Jonah, Metropolitan of Yaroslavl and Rostov, at the place of the chapel there was built in 1662 a wooden church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. In the year 1758 a stone church was built in place of the wooden, into which they transferred this icon.
The Lukianov Icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos is from a church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in the village of Ignatiev. In 1594, it appeared three times in the wilderness area of Pokovitino-Ramen’e, not far from the village.
The priest Gregory, after he consulted with his parishioners, petitioned the blessing of Patriarch Job to transfer the church to the place of the appearance of the icon. The priest was also resettled with the transferred church.
During a Polish-Lithuanian invasion the church was looted. In the year 1640, the Monk Lukian arrived in Ramen’e from an Uglich monastery and found in the neglected church two icons which remained unharmed: the temple icon of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, and an Altar icon: the Smolensk Mother of God. A new church was built at the Lukianov monastery in honor of the appearance of the two wonderworking icons.
This wonderworking icon depicting the Nativity of the Theotokos is venerated on the Greek island of Ithaca.