September 9, 2013

The Life of the Holy Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna

Sts. Joachim and Anna (Feast Day - September 9)


Let Joachim now with his Wife delight,
Both bearing for creation the soul’s delight.
On the ninth is the synaxis of the parents of God's Mother.

By St. Dimitri of Rostov

The holy and righteous Joachim was descended from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David. His genealogy is as follows: from the line of David’s son Nathan, Levi was born, and he begot Melchus and Pamphir, Pamphir begot Barpatherus, Barpatherus begot Joachim, the father of the Mother of God.

The holy Joachim lived in the town of Nazareth of Galilee and had a wife by the name of Anna from the tribe of Levi, from the family of Aaron, the daughter of the priest Matthan, who lived before the reign of Herod, the son of Antipater. This priest Matthan had a wife Mary, from the tribe of Judah, from the town of Bethlehem, and three daughters: Mary, Sovia, and Anna. Of these the first to be wedded was Mary, into the town of Bethlehem, and she bore Salome; then Sovia was wedded, also into Bethlehem, and bore Elizabeth, the mother of John the Forerunner; the third, as we have already said, the mother of the Most Holy Birthgiver of God, was given in marriage to Joachim into the land of Galilee, into the town of Nazareth. This couple, Joachim and Anna, descending from a noble lineage, acquired knowledge in the law of the Lord and were righteous before God. Having material wealth, they were not deprived of spiritual wealth either. Adorned with all the virtues, they observed all the commandments of the law of God. On every feastday the pious couple parted two portions of their property - one they gave for the needs of the temple, while the other they gave to the poor.

By their righteous lives Joachim and Anna please God so much that He considered them worthy enough to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin, the foreordained Mother of the Lord. From only this it is clear that their life was holy, God-pleasing, and pure, for from them was born the Daughter, Holiest of all the saints, pleasing to God more than all the others, and more honorable than the Cherubim. There were on the earth at that time no people more pleasing to God by their pure lives, than Joachim and Anna. Although at the time it was possible to find many living righteously and pleasing to God, these two surpassed all others by their virtues and appeared before God as the most worthy to bear the Mother of God. Such mercy would not have been granted to them by God, if they did not indeed surpass all others in righteousness and holiness. But since the Lord Himself had to be incarnated of a Most Holy and Most Pure Mother, it was likewise fitting that the Mother of God descend from holy and pure parents. Just as earthly kings have their purples made, not from plain material, but gold-brocaded, so also did the Heavenly King wish to have His Most Pure Mother, in the body of which, as in a royal purple, He was to clothe Himself, born not of ordinary incontinent parents, as of plain material, but of chaste and holy ones, as of gold-brocaded material, the type of which was the Old Testament tabernacle, which God ordered Moses to construct of crimson and scarlet material and of fine linen. (Exodus 27:16) "And for the gate of the court shall be an hanging of twenty cubits, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework: and their pillars shall be four, and their sockets four." This tabernacle prefigured the Virgin Mary, taking up His abode in Whom, God came to "live with men", as it is written: "behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them" (Rev. 21:3). The crimson and scarlet material and the linen from which the tabernacle was made, prefigured the parents of the Mother of God, Who was descended from and born of chastity and continence, as of crimson and scarlet raiment, and of their perfection in the fulfillment of every commandment of God, as of fine linen.

But these holy spouses were, by the will of God, childless for a long time - in order that in the conception and birth of such a daughter would be manifested the power of the grace of God, as well as the honor of the One Born, and the worthiness of the parents: for it is impossible for a barren and aged woman to bear in any other way but by the power of the grace of God; here nature is no longer active, but God Who overcomes the laws of nature and destroys the bonds of barrenness. To be born of barren and aged parents is a great honor to the One Born as well, because She is born not of incontinent parents but of continent and aged ones, such as were Joachim and Anna, who lived fifty years in marriage and had no children. Finally, through such a birth the worthiness of the parents themselves is also revealed, since they, after a long barrenness, gave birth to the joy of all the world, in such a way likened to the patriarch Abraham and his devout wife Sarah, who by the promise of God bore Isaac in old age (Genesis 21:2) "For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him." However, it can be said without doubt that the nativity of the Mother of God was superior to the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah. As much as the Virgin Mary is Herself born above and more worthy of honor than Isaac, so likewise are Joachim and Anna greater and higher in worthiness than Abraham and Sarah. They did not achieve that virtue all at once but only after they had prayed to God for this with diligent fasting and prayer, in mental sorrow and with grieving hearts: and their grief was turned into joy, while their disgrace appeared as the herald of a great honor, their assiduous petition appeared as a guidance for the receiving of blessings, and their prayer as the best intercession.

Joachim and Anna were sorrowful and wept long over their childlessness. Once, on a great feastday, Joachim was bringing gifts to the Lord God in the temple of Jerusalem; together with Joachim all of the Israelites were also bringing their gifts in offering to God. Issachar, who was the high priest at that time, did not want to accept the offerings of Joachim because he was without children.

"Your gifts," he said, "must not be accepted because you do not have children, and hence, do not have the blessing of God: most likely you have some secret sins."

Likewise, a Hebrew from the tribe of Reuben, bringing his gifts together with the others, reproached Joachim, saying:

Why do you want to bring sacrifices to God before Me? Do you not know that you are not worthy to bring gifts together with us, since you know no descent in Israel?"

Yet to the patriarchs of the Israelite nation had repeatedly been given by God the promise of the multiplying of their descendants; therefore, the Israelites regarded a multitudinous posterity as the highest fortune and blessing of God. On the other hand, by the ancient promise of God, the Israelites hoped to find among their descendants the "seed of the woman" promised by God, the Messiah. This is why among the Hebrews childlessness was considered as a terrible misfortune and punishment for sins, and the people who did not have children the Hebrews regarded as great sinners.

These reproaches grieved Joachim very much, and he with great sorrow left the temple of God disgraced and humiliated, and the feastday turned into grief for him, while the festal joy changed into sorrow. Deeply sorrowing, he did not return home, but departed into the desert to the shepherds, tending their flocks, and wept there over his infertility and over the abuses and reproaches made against him. Having remembered Abraham, his forefather, to whom in extreme old age God granted a son, Joachim began diligently praying to the Lord that he also be honored with such benevolence, that He hear his prayer, have mercy on him, and take away from him the abuses of the people, that He grant him in old age the fruit of his marriage, as was done at one time to Abraham.

"May I have," he prayed, "the possibility of being called the father of a child, and not childless and rejected by God to suffer the reproaches of the people."

Joachim added a fast to this prayer and for forty days did not partake of bread.

"I will not eat," he said, "and will not return to my home; let my tears be my nourishment, and the desert my home, until the Lord God of Israel hearkens and takes this defamation away from me"

In the very same way his wife also, being at home and hearing that the high priest, reproaching them for barrenness, did not want to accept their gifts, and that her husband from great sorrow had withdrawn into the desert, wept with inconsolable tears.

"Now," she said, "I am the most unfortunate of all: rejected by God, reviled among the people, and forsaken by my husband! Over what shall I weep now: over my widowhood, or my childlessness, or my orphanhood, of over the fact that I was not found worthy to be called a mother!"

In this way she wept bitterly all those days.

A servant of Anna, by the name of Judith, tried to comfort her but could not: for who can console one whose grief is as deep as the sea?

Once the sorrowful Anna went into the garden, sat under a laurel tree, sighed from the depth of her heart, and lifting her tear-filled eyes toward heaven, noticed a bird’s nest on the tree with tiny birds in it. This sight imbued her heart with even greater sorrow, and she with weeping began to call out:

"Woe to me who am childless! It is probably because I am the most sinful among all the daughters of Israel, that I am the only one among all the women to be so humbled. All of them carry the fruit of their wombs in their arms; all of them are comforted by their children; I am the only one alien to this joy. Woe is me! The gifts of all are accepted in the temple of God, and for their child-bearing respect is shown to them; I am the only one rejected from the temple of my Lord. Woe is me! With whom can I compare myself? Not with the birds of the sky, not with the animals of the earth; for they too bring their fruit to Thee, Lord God; only I am barren. I cannot compare myself even with the earth; for it vegetates and raises the seeds, and bringing forth fruits, blesses Thee, the Heavenly Father; only I am without fruit on the earth. Alas, for me, Lord, Lord! Only I, a sinner, am deprived of posterity. Thou who once granted a son Isaac to Sarah in deep old age (Genesis 21:1-8):

And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age. And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.

Thou Who opened the womb of Hannah, the mother of Thy prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11, 20; 1 Kings 1:11, 20 in Septuagint),

And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head… Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.

Look upon me today and hear my prayers. Lord Sabaoth! Thou knowest the disgrace of childlessness; put an end to the sorrow of my heart and open my womb and make me who am barren fruit-bearing, so that we may bring the one born of me as a gift to Thee, blessing, lauding, and in accordance glorifying Thy mercy."

While Anna was exclaiming in this way with weeping and wailing, an angel of the Lord appeared to her and said:

"Anna, Anna! Your prayer has been heard; your sighings have penetrated through to the clouds; your tears have appeared before God; and you shall conceive and bear a most blessed Daughter; through Her all the tribes of the earth shall receive a blessing and to all the world shall be granted salvation; her name shall be Mary."

Hearing the words of the angel, Anna bowed down to God and said:

"As the Lord God lives, if a child is born to me, I shall offer it for service to God. Let it serve Him and glorify the holy name of God day and night all the time if its life."

Following this, having been filled with unspeakable joy, the holy Anna quickly went to Jerusalem in order there to give prayerful thanksgiving to God for His merciful visitation.

At the same time the Angel also appeared to Joachim in the desert and said:

"Joachim, Joachim! God has herd your prayer and it well-pleases Him to grant you His grace; your wife Anna shall conceive and bear you a Daughter, the birth of Whom shall be the joy of the entire world. And here is a sign for you that I am announcing the truth to you: go to Jerusalem to the temple of God and there, at the golden gates, you shall find your wife Anna to whom I have announced the same."

Joachim, surprised by such good news of the angel, doxologizing God and thanking Him with heart and lips for the great mercy, hastily departed with joy and gladness for the temple of Jerusalem. There, just as the Angel had announced to him, he found Anna at the golden gates, praying to God, and he told her of the glad tidings of the angel. She likewise revealed how she had seen and heard an angel, announcing the birth of a daughter to her. Then Joachim and Anna Glorified God Who had done such a great kindness for them, and having worshipped Him in the holy temple, they returned to their home.

And holy Anna conceived on the ninth day of the month of December, while on the eighth of September she gave birth to a Daughter, the Most Pure and Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Beginning and Intercessor of our salvation, over Whose birth both heaven and earth rejoiced. Joachim, on the occasion of Her birth, brought valuable gifts, sacrifices, and burnt offerings to God, and received the blessing of the high priest, the priests, the levites, and all the people, for having been vouchsafed the blessing of God. He later gave a banquet in his home, and all glorified God with gladness.

The parents took care of the growing Virgin Mary as the apple of their eye, knowing, by the special revelation of God, that She would be a light to all the world and the renewal of human nature. For this reason they brought Her up with such careful circumspection, as was proper for the One Who was to be the Mother of our Savior. They loved Her not only as their daughter as long awaited, but revered Her as their lady, remembering the angelic words concerning Her and foreseeing through the spirit what was to be accomplished through Her. Being filled with divine grace, She mystically enriched Her parents with that grace as well. As the sun illuminates with its rays the heavenly bodies so also the divinely-chosen Mary, like the sun, illuminated Joachim and Anna with the rays of the grace given to Her, so that they too were filled with the Spirit of God, and firmly believed in the fulfillment of the angel’s words.

When the child Mary reached the age of three, Her parents led Her with glory into the temple of the Lord, accompanying Her with lighted lamps, and consecrated Her to the service of God, as they had promised. After the passing of several years following the presentation of May into the temple, holy Joachim died, eighty years from his birth. Holy Anna, having become a widow, left Nazareth and came to Jerusalem, where she stayed with her Most Holy Daughter, praying unceasingly in the temple of God. Having lived in Jerusalem for two years, she reposed in the Lord, 79 years following her birth. The Church commemorates the passing of the righteous Anna on the 25th of July.

O, How blessed are you, holy parents, Joachim and Anna, for the sake of your Most Blessed Daughter! Greatly blessed are you for the sake of Her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom all the nations and tribes of the earth have received a blessing! The Holy Church has justly named you Ancestors of God, for we know that from your Most Holy Daughter God was born. Standing near to Him in heaven today, pray that at least a certain portion of your never-ending joy will be imparted to us. Amen.

Every day at the conclusion of divine services, at the dismissal, the Church asks for mercy and salvation from the Lord for those going out of the temple, through the prayers of the Mother of God and of the holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, and each year commemorates them on the second day of the Nativity of the Birthgiver of God, for it is proper that after the feastday of the Nativity of the Mother of God Her holy parents should be glorified as well.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Having been righteous in the grace of the law, Joachim and Anna did bear for us a God-given child: therefore, today the divine Church radiantly triumphs, celebrating joyously your precious memory, glorifying God Who has elevated the horn of salvation for us in the house of David.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Now Anna rejoiceth that she is released from the bonds of her barrenness, and she doth nourish her immaculate child. She calleth together all the people to praise Him Who, from her womb, gave to mortals the only ever-virgin Mother.