Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars (Prov. 9:1). Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God (Ps. 86:2). The Most High hath hallowed His tabernacle. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be shaken (Ps. 45:4-5).
Here we are, with the gift of God, at the most beautiful and joy-giving feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God. This feast also marks the beginning of the church year. This beginning has been placed under the sign of joy; joy brought to the world by the conception and birth of Mother of God from the holy, righteous, and divine parents Joachim and Anna. It is proper to thank the Lord for this great gift. And especially today we ought to thank the good Lord for the great gift He gave us, through the birth of Mother of God, the Mother of us all.
Today, as for all celebration dedicated to the Mother of God, we ought to fulfill the prophecy of Mother of God who said, Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed (Lk. 1:48). And even if our hymns and prayers and veneration be unworthy and far from the purity and beauty of the Mother of God, the Mother of the Lord will not reject us, but will receive all with motherly love for her children, who are only now learning to speak.
Today we honor the Mother of God, but especially we honor all of her ancestors—all the righteous who by their deeds and virtues made possible the Mother of God’s birth. We especially honor her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna, about whom the Holy Fathers say that they were righteous before God; and that, in fact, at that time on earth there weren’t any people more virtuous, more righteous, more holy before God than them.
The Mother of God is the most beautiful fruit of humanity; everything that mankind had most beautiful and good was held in seed in the Mother of God, through her parents. All the virtues of the righteous of the Old Testament are found in her. But Mother of God is not only the fruit of mankind, but is in fact the synergy of God with humanity.
That is why I have begun with this phrase: Wisdom hath builded her house. In the person of Mother of God, God built a house for His Word, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of the Heavenly Father. A holy father said that our ancestors recklessly wanted to build a tower from earth to the sky, and God then descended and confused the languages on earth, to stop them from their recklessness. That was the tower of Babel.
That father says that at the same time, but in a mysterious way, God built on earth another tower, a ladder, actually, from heaven to earth—this is the ladder that the patriarch Jacob saw stretching from earth to heaven, on which angels of God would ascend and descend.
This, Jacob’s ladder, is the Mother of God, on which, as we sing in her Akathist, God has descended and man has risen. God has descended to us so that we people might become sons of God. And this is done through Mother of God. Through her intercession, through her prayer, through her care, we are made sons of God.
The holy fathers say to us that the coming of the Mother of God in the world was promised to our first parents already in Heaven, even before their fall. Then it was preached by the prophets. Generations had prayed for this incarnation of God from the Mother of God and for her birth. The Holy Virgin Mary came to be as a blessed fruit of her old and happy parents’ lengthy prayer and tears.
As we have said, they were righteous before God but didn’t have children until old age. They were both descendants of the royal lineage of David and were living in Nazareth of Galilee. They were living their life in deep piety and chastity, fasting and good deeds but were wrapped in much sadness, being alone, without offspring. But this, however, did not discourage them in their waiting.
Tradition tells us, and it is confirmed by the holy fathers, by St. John Damascene, that many times they would pray with these words: “God, Adonai, Eloi, Savior! You know the shame of lack of children; you know our sadness and bitterness. If You would only look upon the humility of your servants and grant them a child, we will offer it to You. We shall dedicate it to You.” This is how the Holy Joachim and Anna would pray.
The fathers say that at a certain moment they wanted to go to Jerusalem and bring offerings but the priest didn’t receive their gift, because it was considered that those who have no children are cursed by God. This grief which was, so to speak, a cover to all bitterness, made them not return home. Saint Joachim, as holy tradition mentions, went to the desert, and there he prayed, while Saint Anna went back home and enclosed herself in order to spend time in prayer. Saint Joachim fasted, and raised his prayers to God that he may become father. He didn’t cease praying until he received the answer to his request, which was announced by the Holy Archangel Gabriel.
Accordingly, St. Anna, enclosed in her room, with broken heart cried to God, “Hear me, O God of our fathers, and bless me as you have blessed Sarah (the woman of Abraham, to be mother). And the Lord heard their prayers, blessed them, and fulfilled their wish. He gave them a most beautiful baby girl, more wondrous than all wonders. Thus, as fruit of prayer and asceticism was born the most holy Mother of God.
The saints say, “What wings had that prayer, what condescension, what untainted hearts of those saints, Joachim and Anna, who brought God such prayer and who attained such grace and so great a gift from the Lord. Through their prayer was born the one whom the church calls the Tabernacle of the Light, the Book of the Word of Life, the dwelling place of the Most High, the House of Wisdom, and many other names.
We ought to join the choir of the saints in praising the Mother of God. We shall start by saying with St. John Damascene, that through the Mother of God was shown the work of the Holy Trinity; because she was the daughter of the Father, who is born today; the mother of the Son; and the bride of the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid to sing with the words of the Akathist, “Rejoice unwedded Bride,” for she is the bride of the Holy Spirit, as the fathers say.
Gregory Palamas says some things about the gifts that God seeded in the Mother of God. Saint Gregory Palamas, a saint of the Church who had great reverence for the Mother of God, said, “It was, therefore, that the one who would give birth to the One adorned in beauty more than all the sons of men; because the Savior was the most beautiful; it was proper, thus, that she be unsurpassed in beauty and prepared since childhood, with the wondrous beauty totally appropriate to her. From the resemblance showed in her with Him, with the Savior, with her Son, to be recognized by all as the Son of the ever-virgin Daughter. Every eye would see her, to witness her as the beginning of the One without body, of the one without father, forever.”
Therefore, Saint Gregory tells us, because Jesus was the exact image of the Virgin Mary. He looked like her completely. The Savior had to be the most beautiful of all men, thus the Mother of God was the most beautiful woman, the most beautiful creature, because the Savior was to look exactly like her.
“The one who clothes the lilies of the field more beautifully than Solomon’s kingly mantle,” says Saint Gregory, “the virgin herself, who was to bear the Man’s body beyond human reason, thus was adorned, making her worthy to be admired by all; the divine dwelling of all goodness and beauty together, each of them separate. Alone among all people of all ages, there was nothing that she was lacking, but exceeding all beyond measure as the sky surpasses the earth.”
In her, not only the beauties of the body and of the soul, but all gifts that the prophets and all saints partly had, she had them fully. Thus God prepared his most sacred dwelling, the Mother of God, the Holy of Holies. “Which word, I wonder, could describe the beauty of your shining, O Mother of God, Purest Virgin?” says Saint Gregory. “For it is not possible to describe your gifts through words or thoughts. All overwhelm mind and mouth.” You, alone, most worthy among all people of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and in more than that, alone, in an incomprehensible way, you bore in your womb the One who beholds the treasures of all these gifts; and for Him your were shown to be the incomprehensible tabernacle.
It was impossible for God to unite Himself with something unclean. God could not come into an unclean dwelling; that is why the Mother was God was of perfect purity.
The church, through her hymns, last night and today, showed us the importance of today’s celebration and told us that today is the beginning of joy for the whole world. Today have blown the breezes foretelling salvation. This is the birth of the Mother of God. Today, Anna the barren, gives birth to the Daughter of God, chosen from all the tribes to be the dwelling for God, the Emperor of all, the Dweller. Joy for all the world, from the righteous, from Joachim and Anna, has sprung for us, the most praised virgin, who for her perfect purity, has become the temple of God, and the only Mother of God.
Today, the curse of old Eve was loosed, because the new Eve is born, the Mother of Life. Before even thinking about the importance of today’s feast for all of us, let us utter one more thing. The Gospel of Saint Luke, read last night [at the Vigil for the Nativity of the Mother of God] and which is usually read for feasts of the Mother of God, talks about the meeting between Mother of God and saint Elisabeth, mother of saint John the Forerunner. After the Mother of God received the Annunciation, it is said that when the Mother of God greeted Elisabeth, the latter was filled of the Holy Spirit.
The Mother of God was already filled with the Holy Spirit from the Annunciation. She was filled with Holy Spirit, and as the prophets of old she preached and spoke from the Holy Spirit. You all know what I mean. I only want to highlight what Saint Elisabeth said: And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord (Lk. 1:43, 45). I would like to emphasize, blessed is she. St. Elisabeth spoke, but the Gospel tells us that she spoke being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit testified through the mouth of St. Elisabeth that the Mother of God is blessed. Why? Because she has believed that what was said to her from the Lord will be exactly fulfilled. I wanted to add this, because there are so many who call themselves Christians and who do not honor the Mother of God.
If we, according to the Gospel, have uttered from the Holy Spirit through Saint Elisabeth’s lips that blessed are you who believe, how could we not honor the Mother of God if God Himself, the Holy Spirit, honors her? As she herself said, From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, not from herself, but being filled with the Holy Spirit, she prophesied what will happen. How could we not honor her, when she grants us so many good things and blessings, heeds so many prayers, cures so many illnesses, works so many wonders? It is impossible not to honor her. She only said what will happen, not that she is expecting this praise. Our praises don’t affect her; she renders them all to the Savior, but she is happy, of course, when her children give her proper honor and veneration.
There are many things to be said at this beautiful and joyful celebration. We would like to highlight two things. The first is the virtue of the holy parents Joachim and Anna, their long patience and their hope beyond hope. As the Scripture says, their prayer would be heard; and we see what a righteous, holy thing it was that God didn’t fulfill their demand immediately. He waited a long time before accomplishing it.
This we should learn, that if God delays in fulfilling a request, and that we want to be according to His will and beneficial, it doesn’t mean that we should stop praying—certainly not. The righteous Joachim and Anna fulfilled what the Savior advised us afterwards. He told us: Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. And then, For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened (Matt. 7:7-8). The Savior didn’t command us to stop praying. There is no justification for ceasing prayer or losing hope.
Saints Joachim and Anna are a perfect example of this—when physically the birth was no longer possible, their prayer conquered nature; they believed that God can conquer nature, as He had done with Abraham and Sarah, and with other righteous women such as Anna, the mother of prophet Samuel and many others who through prayer received children. They believed that God can conquer nature. We should do the same—believe that God can conquer our helplessness and our unworthiness and scarcity of belief, straighten our shortcomings, and fulfill our request. But we should not stop praying.
The Savior gave us many examples of how to pray and not stop until we receive an answer to our request.
In connection with the virtue of these holy parents, we also highlight, as the holy fathers say, their yearning for children. How much did they pray to receive a child! This should be an example for us nowadays, as we all know that there is a fashion, a sinful fashion, an evil (forgive me) I may say, for people to make children [artificially], to prevent the conception of children, and even worse, to kill them after they have been conceived in the womb, through abortion. How they toiled, Saint Joachim and Anna, to receive a child, and how lightly some of us kill them.
That is why today we would like to urge you: Every time you see somebody in a pregnancy crisis (as we call it nowadays), which says to the women that they have conceived but they are obligated to abort, let us go to Sts. Joachim and Anna, and to ask them to strengthen that woman and the family, so that the child would be born and not killed. And because they have received so much grace before God, and have received the greatest gift possible, they will surely intervene and will be intercessors for that person, so that God will strengthen her to give birth to that child.
We should all take part in wiping this bloodstain from our nation. This is one of the incentives I would like to place next to your heart today.
I would like to conclude by saying some things about the Mother of God in relation to each and every one of us. The hymn says, “O the wonder, the Mother of God is my mother,” about each and every one of us. So we read in the Akathist, and so the holy fathers say. The fathers say, and it’s seen in lives of the saints, that the Mother of God, although surrounded by so many angelic, beautiful and sweet hymns, on the throne of glory given her by her Son, prefers instead of sitting on that throne to be at the bed of the sick, near those who are full of sorrows, because she greatly loves mankind. She loves us greatly, she helps greatly, and wants to bring us comfort. We have many examples like this in the lives of the saints.
In the life of Saint Jonah of Kiev, is related that during the Crimean war, Mother or God and St. Anastasia came and woke Saint Jonah during the night and took him with them. They were going to the hospital, opening wounds to clean the pus—doing all that a doctor or a nurse does. The Mother of God was doing this with her own hands and St. Anastasia, and Saint Jonah was helping them. This is the Mother of God. She does not remain sitting in glory. One religious person was shown Heaven, and when he reached the throne of the Mother of God, he saw an empty throne. “How can that be? Where is the Mother of God?” he asked.
She is on earth, taking care of the suffering. This is the Mother of God. Father Arsenie (Papacioc) said that Mother of God sacrifices herself permanently and suffers for us. And I believe that she may even struggle with the heavenly judge, defending the helpless who ask her for help. Beyond imagination and beyond any entitlement she loves even the bad ones, even the indifferent ones. No sinner, no matter how great, should not despond, should not lose hope if Mother of God defends him—for she will not desert him. “O happy hope, O safe refuge—the Mother of God is my mother.” Father Arsenie said that once a sinner was praying to the Mother of God to “show thyself as my mother,” and the Mother of God answered, “Show thyself as a son of mine”. This is the Mother of God’s message to us to behave, and to show ourselves as being her children. Let us pray to her to make us her children. This is the most beautiful and easy way to become a Christian.
It is proper to conclude with the praise of the church in honor of the Mother of God, “Rejoice, O thou who art full of the Holy Spirit, Mary, the Lord is with thee.” And through thee, with all of us. Amen