On the old calendar, today is the feast of the nativity of the Theotokos (September 8 / 21).
Why do we celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary to Joachim and Anna? Do you celebrate your mother’s birthday? Do you celebrate your friend’s mother’s birthday? Ought you not to celebrate your Lord’s mother’s birthday, who extends her maternal care to us all?
I always like it when the priest ends his blessing at the end of the liturgy by invoking the intercessions “of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna and of all the Saints.” They are Jesus’ grandparents. Along with Abraham and the patriarchs, they are the iconic grandparents, though Abraham seems to me far more like a clan chief and a pater familias than a grandfather figure. Such is perhaps ironic, in that I am a descendant of “Father Abraham” but not of Joachim and Anna. Yet, spiritual descent has a vivacious presence in the mind of Christians, and Joachim and Anna seem so grandfatherly and grandmotherly.
Some may find such sentiments sacrilegious, but I develop certain feelings for religious and other historical figures about whom I learn. I wonder what such men and women would have been like on a personal level. For example, for some reason, it always seemed obvious to me that Peter would be someone with whom I would feel comfortable. You would think that the preeminent apostle would conjure some sense of royal deference, but I have never felt that way. He just seems like such a man—a good man, a noble man—but very much a guy . . . like the perfect Boy Scout leader. He is the ultimate masculine friend . . . God’s wingman, to speak vulgarly but sincerely. In this, I do not wish to minimize the veneration that I have for Peter. I do not wish to sound like an egalitarian Protestant who causally speaks of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith like they were simply ordinary fellows. Nonetheless, I think that Peter’s leadership quality would be very much the type where you forget to feel conscientious and nervous in his presence. I think that he would have a disarming warmth rather than an icy majesty. Of course, these are emotional rather than intellectual observations about my own psyche, but I find it interesting. I wonder if anyone else feels that way.
Thy nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
Has shone on thee, O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us Eternal Life.
By thy nativity, O Most-Pure Virgin,
Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness,
And Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death.
And we, Thy people, freed from the guilt of sin,
Celebrate and sing to Thee:
The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos,
The Nourisher of our life.