The Immaculate Conception, the motherhood/maternity of St. Anna, or The Conception of Saint Anna, is the feast when we celebrate St. Anna conceiving the Mary, the Theotokos. This feast is generally celebrated in Eastern Churches in December 9th. However, Roman Catholics celebrate this feast on December 8th. And in countries such as the United States, the feast celebrations have shifted to the 8th for the East as well.
We celebrate the conception of Mary on December 9th, though we celebrate her nativity on September 8th. Why this discrepancy of days? Well, all I’ve been able to find is that there is an old Eastern old-wives-tale which says that girls stay in the womb one day longer than boys. (Perhaps they thought that because boy babies are bigger, they need to come out sooner?).
What else do we Byzantines do differently in celebrating the conception of Mary? Well, we focus on the miracle of Anna conceiving Mary though she was old and barren. The Western celebration of this feast tends to focus on the immaculate nature of Mary’s conception.
Does that mean we in the East don’t believe in the purity of Mary since her conception? Absolutely not. Check out what our Church Fathers have to say about the conception of the Theotokos.
What Eastern Church Fathers have to say about the Conception of Mary
The earliest [Eastern] Church Father quote on Mary’s conception comes from Origen of Alexandria. In his Homily 1 he writes, “This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.”
The next quotation comes from Athanasius of Alexandria. He writes, “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides.” (Quotation taken from Homily of the Papyrus of Turin).
Finally there is this writing from John of Damascus, “O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! Oh glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew.” It can be found in his Homily 1.
St. Anna promised to dedicate her child to God, before she conceived (and in her old age too!). What a sign of trust in God. Throughout the day, take the time to tell God you trust in Him.
Let’s also intrust our Children to the Lord through the Theotokos! If you are pregnant, have a priest say a blessing over the child in your womb. Once your children are baptized, you can say a prayer over them to consecrate them to the protection of the Theotokos. There are a couple different prayers for this.
- Consecration to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
- Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
- Article on Marian Consecration for Kids with information on a related book
Since this feast occurs during the Nativity Fast, take some time to think about the mystery of the Theotokos’ conception and birth. If you have children, you might tell them to imagine that they are in Heaven with Jesus as He witnessed the His mother growing in the womb. Ask them how they think Jesus felt when His mother was born. Remind them that Mary had special graces from her conception, which makes her the most perfect of all creatures.
Prayers, Scriptures, and Tropars
Readings: Galatians 4:22-31, Luke 8:16-21
Troparion: (tone 4)
Today the chains of barrenness are shattered, for having heard the prayer of Joachim and Anna, against all hope God has openly promised the birth of the Maiden of God, from whom the very Infinite Ons will be born as a man, the One who commanded the angels to cry to her: Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Kontakion: (tone 4)
Today the whole world celebrated the conception by Anna, which was brought about by God himself. For she has ineffably borne the one who will bear the Word.
Prokeimenon: (tone 4)
God is wonderful in His saints, the God of Israel.
Irmos: (tone 1)
O my soul, magnify the most glorious conception of the Mother of God. Let us the faithful magnify the Theotokos. For she is the wellspring ever-flowing and life-receiving, the lightbearing lamp of grace, the living temple and tabernacle all pure. Even more spacious than heav’n and earth.
The Byzantine Life
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