Reblogged from the IRD’s blog, Juicy Ecumenism, here.
On September 8, most of the world’s local Orthodox Churches commemorate the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary. Like the Great Feast of the Dormition celebrated in August, this holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus’ mother is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. What is the significance of this important feast day for Orthodox Christians?
The birth of the Virgin Mary to her barren, elderly parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna, was, like the birth of Isaac to the elderly Abraham and barren Sarah, a miraculous work of God which confirmed the parents’ special covenant with Him. As the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s article on the Feast of the Virgin’s Nativity notes,
The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.
According to the story found in this book, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. They remained faithful to God, but their prayers for a child were unanswered. One day, when Joachim came to the temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest who chastised him for his lack of children. To hide his shame, Joachim retreated to the hill country to live among the shepherds and their flocks.
As Joachim was praying, his wife Anna was praying at the same time at their house in Jerusalem. An angel appeared to both of them and announced that Anna would have a child whose name would be known throughout the world. Anna promised to offer her child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim returned home, and in due time Anna bore a daughter, Mary.
According to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)’s article on the feast, Orthodox Christians celebrate it “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.”
You might be asking “Why do Orthodox Christians make such a big deal about the birthday of Jesus’ mother?” For one reason, since Mary is the mother of our Lord and Savior, in a way, she has become the mother of us all — for Mary herself notes in the words of the Magnificat (St. Luke 1:46-55) that “from henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” From the very beginning of our salvation and redemption at the Annunciation, Mary has been hailed and blessed by angels and men as the mother of our Savior and redeemer. When we honor and praise her, we please her Son, since He loves His mother very much and always listens to her. Since Jesus is so important to Orthodox Christians, we consider it only natural that we remember His mother’s birthday, which marked the beginning of our redemptive arc.
The significance of the feast is embodied in the hymns we sing at the forefeast of Mary’s Nativity on the night before the actual feast. Here are the two main hymns for the forefeast (courtesy of OCA.org’s Music Downloads for September 7):
Troparion (Tone 4)
Today from the stem of Jesse and from the loins of David,
The handmaid of God Mary is being born for us.
Therefore all creation is renewed and rejoices!
Heaven and earth rejoice together.
Praise her, you families of nations,
For Joachim rejoices and Anna celebrates crying out:
“The barren one gives birth to the Theotokos, the Nourisher of our life!”
Kontakion (Tone 3)
Today the Virgin Theotokos Mary
The bridal chamber of the Heavenly Bridegroom
By the will of God is born of a barren woman
Being prepared as the chariot of God the Word
She was foreordained for this, since she is the
divine gate and the true Mother of Life.
Because God the Father chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of His Son, we honor her as blessed and exalted above all women. As the mother of our Savior, she is the mother of our very Life, Christ our God. Because of this, we think it is only fitting to remember her birthday, since from her youth, her parents dedicated her to God’s service in the holy Temple at Jerusalem. From her earliest days, Mary was being prepared for the earth-shattering, cosmos-changing role God had foreordained for her. It all began with her miraculous birth to an elderly priest and his barren wife. From such improbable beginnings ultimately came our salvation and the promise of eternal life.