December 9, 2017

Why Was the Virgin Mary Born of a Sterile Woman? (St. John of Damascus)

By St. John of Damascus

(Execerpt from Homily 2, Oration on the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Mary)

But why has the Virgin Mother been born from a sterile woman? For that which alone is new under the sun, the culmination of miracles, the way had to be prepared by means of miracles, and what was greater had to advance slowly from what was more humble. And I have another more exalted and divine reason. Nature has been defeated by grace and stands trembling, no longer ready to take the lead. Therefore when the God-bearing Virgin was about to be born from Anna, nature did not dare to anticipate the offshoot of grace; instead it remained without fruit until grace sprouted its fruit. For it was necessary for her to be the first-born, she who would bear the “Firstborn of all creation” in whom “all things subsist” (Col 1.15,17).

O blessed couple, Joachim and Anna, all nature is indebted to you! For through you it has offered a gift to the Creator which is more excellent than all other gifts: a holy mother who alone is worthy of the Creator. O most all-blessed loins of Joachim, from which a wholly unblemished seed was sent forth! O renowned womb of Anna, in which slowly, with additions from her, an all-holy infant grew, and once it had taken shape, was born! O belly that contained within itself a living heaven, vaster than the immensity of the heavens! O threshing floor which contained the heap of life-giving grain, since Christ himself declared: “Unless a grain of wheat which falls into the earth dies, it remains just a single grain ...” (John 12.24). O breasts that suckled her who fed the Feeder of the world! O marvel of marvels and miracle of miracles!

For it was necessary that the ineffable and condescending incarnation of God should be prepared by means of miracles. But how shall I advance further? My understanding is confounded, while fear and longing have divided me. My heart quakes and my tongue has been paralyzed. I cannot bear my happiness! I am overcome by miracles! I am possessed by longing! Let longing be overcome! Let fear be banished! Let the harp of the Spirit sing, “Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth exult!” (Ps 95[96].11).