Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
On September 8th we celebrate the Nativity of Mary, which is one of the 12 major feast days. It is also the first major feast in our new liturgical year.
Tradition is that Joachim (a descendant of King David) and Anna (of the tribe of priests) were pious but childless into their later years. Due to the negative association with barrenness in Jewish culture, the couple suffered public ridicule and embarrassment. This did not stop the couple from praying together for a child, who recalled the example of Abraham receiving Isaac in his elderly days. So they continued to pray past childbearing years, and promised God that they would dedicate their child to the Lord’s service. Tradition also is that the High Priest would not accept a feast day sacrifice from Joachim since he thought the couple’s childless state was a sign of unworthiness. But God answered Anna and Joachim’s continued trust in Him, and Anna gave birth to Mary, who would become the Theotokos.
There is no record of Anna and Joachim in the bible, although we do have a record of them in the Protoevangelium of James.
In icons of the Nativity of Mary, Anna is shown reclining on a bed. Anna is shown in the same position as Mary is in corresponding Nativity of Christ Icons. Often Mary is pictured as being washed in a basin by midwives, which parallels Christ being washed by Salome at the bottom right of Nativity icons. Other icons have Mary in a cradle that is richly adorned, in a position mimicking Christ being laid in a manger. Our icon of the Nativity of Mary has Anna holding the baby Mary, but the wash basin is nearby. Also paralleling each other, Joseph and Joachim are pictured standing in the background of their respective icons.
Both Anna and Mary are shown to be attended by midwives. Generally, the icon expresses a far more extravagant birth for Mary than Christ’s humble beginnings in a cave. Mary is born in a house adorned in beauty, within a city. This shows the honour and love God has for the child God has chosen to bring Christ into the world. In fact, our family Nativity of Mary icon, pictured to the right, is one of the most simple Nativity of Mary icons that I’ve seen. I just happen to like sofrino icons.
The icon reminds us of the fruitfulness of faithful prayers and trust in God. It is also the image of God’s promises being kept: the birth of she who was prefigured in the Old Testament, the new Eve.
Nativity of Mary Prayers and Tropars
Troparion: (tone 4)
Your nativity, O Mother of God, has made joy known to all the world, for from you dawned the Son of Righteousness, Christ our God. He abolished the curse and gave the blessing, and by making death of no effect, He bestowed upon us eternal life.
You can listen to this troparion in different languages here.
Kontakion: (tone 4)
By your birth, O immaculate one, Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness, and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And your people, redeemed from the guilt of their sins, celebrate as they cry out to you, “the barren one gives birth to the Mother of God and nourisher of our life.”
Prokeimenon: (tone 3)
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
O my soul, magnify the Virgin Mary born from a barren womb. Virginity is alien to mothers, and childbearing is foreign to virgins, yet in you, O Mother of God, both of them came together. Therefore, we and all the nations of the earth without ceasing magnify you.
Ways to Celebrate
Go to Church! This year the feast falls on a Sunday. But even when it doesn’t, it is one of the twelve major feasts!
Use blue to decorate your home. Blue has been the traditional colour for the theotokos since the Byzantine empire. There are several reasons for this. Blue is the colour for empresses in the Byzantium. Byzantine icons use blue to symbolize the divine, transcendence and mystery. So Mary wears a blue inner garment representing how she carried Christ within her humanity (outer red garment). Blue is also a biblical colour associated with the people of Israeli and following the ten commandments/the will of God (Numbers 15:38-39). And is the colour for covering the Ark of the Covenant (Numbers 4:6-7).
You can also wear blue clothing if you have any. Remember that we too are made new because of the work of Mary as the new Eve.
Get a birthday cake or another special birthday treat to celebrate the birthday of the Mother of God! If you are ambitious, consider making a cupcake rosary.
And, of course, offer prayers and hymns to Jesus. Because honouring her son, honours Mary too!
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