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Nativity of the Theotokos

In addi­tion to the cel­e­bra­tion of the Annun­ci­a­tion, there are three major feasts in the Church hon­or­ing Mary, the Theotokos. The first of these is the feast of her nativ­i­ty which is kept on the eighth of September.

The record of the birth of Mary is not found in the Bible. The tra­di­tion­al account of the event is tak­en from the apoc­ryphal writ­ings which are not part of the New Tes­ta­ment scrip­tures. The tra­di­tion­al teach­ing which is cel­e­brat­ed in the hymns and vers­es of the fes­tal litur­gy is that Joachim and Anna were a pious Jew­ish cou­ple who were among the small and faith­ful remnant-“the poor and the needy”-who were await­ing the promised mes­si­ah. The cou­ple was old and child­less. They prayed earnest­ly to the Lord for a child, since among the Jews bar­ren­ness was a sign of God’s dis­fa­vor. In answer to their prayers, and as the reward of their unwa­ver­ing fideli­ty to God, the elder­ly cou­ple was blessed with the child who was des­tined, because of her own per­son­al good­ness and holi­ness, to become the Moth­er of the Messiah-Christ.

Your nativ­i­ty, O Vir­gin, has pro­claimed joy to the whole uni­verse. The Sun of Right­eous­ness, Christ our God, has shone from you, O Theotokos. By annulling the curse he bestowed a bless­ing. By destroy­ing death he has grant­ed us eter­nal life. (Tropar­i­on)

By your nativ­i­ty, O most pure vir­gin, Joachim and Anna are freed from bar­ren­ness; Adam and Eve from the cor­rup­tion of death. And we, your peo­ple, freed from the guilt of sin, cel­e­brate and sing to you: The bar­ren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the Nour­ish­er of our Life. (Kon­takion)

The fact that there is no Bib­li­cal ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the facts of Mary’s birth is inci­den­tal to the mean­ing of the feast. Even if the actu­al back­ground of the event as cel­e­brat­ed in the Church is ques­tion­able from an his­tor­i­cal point of view, the divine mean­ing of it “for us men and for our sal­va­tion” is obvi­ous. There had to be one born of human flesh and blood who would be spir­i­tu­al­ly capa­ble of being the Moth­er of Christ, and she her­self had to be born into the world of per­sons who were spir­i­tu­al­ly capa­ble of being her parents.

The feast of the Nativ­i­ty of the Theotokos, there­fore, is a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of Mary’s birth, of Mary her­self and of her right­eous par­ents. It is a cel­e­bra­tion as well of the very first prepa­ra­tion of the sal­va­tion of the world. For the “Ves­sel of Light,” the “Book of the Word of Life,” the “Door to the Ori­ent,” the “Throne of Wis­dom” is being pre­pared on earth by God him­self in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary.

The vers­es of the feast are filled with titles for Mary such as those in the quo­ta­tions above. They are inspired by the mes­sage of the Bible, both the Old and New Tes­ta­ments. The spe­cif­ic Bib­li­cal read­ings of the feast give indi­ca­tions of this.

At the Ves­pers the three Old Tes­ta­men­tal read­ings are “mar­i­o­log­i­cal” in their New Tes­ta­men­tal inter­pre­ta­tion. Thus, Jacob’s Lad­der which unites heav­en and earth and the place which is named “the house of God” and the “gate of heav­en” (Gen­e­sis 28:10–17) are tak­en, to indi­cate the union of God with men which is real­ized most ful­ly and per­fect­ly-both spir­i­tu­al­ly and phys­i­cal­ly-in Mary the Theotokos, Bear­er of God. So also the vision of the tem­ple with the “door ‘to the East” per­pet­u­al­ly closed and filled with the “glo­ry of the Lord” sym­bol­izes Mary, called in the hymns of the feast “the liv­ing tem­ple of God filled with the divine Glo­ry.” (Ezekiel 43:27–44:4) Mary is also iden­ti­fied with the “house” which the Divine Wis­dom has built for him­self accord­ing to the read­ing from Proverbs 9:1–11.

The Gospel read­ing of Matins is the one read at all feasts of the Theotokos, the famous Mag­ni­fi­cat from St. Luke in which Mary says: “My soul mag­ni­fies the Lord and my spir­it rejoic­es in God my Sav­iour, for he has regard­ed the low estate of his hand­maid­en, for behold, hence­forth all gen­er­a­tions will call me blessed.”(Luke 1:47)

The epis­tle read­ing of the Divine Litur­gy is the famous pas­sage about the com­ing of the Son of God in “the form of a ser­vant, being born in the like­ness of man” (Philip­pi­ans 2:5–11) and the gospel read­ing is that which is always read for feasts of the Theotokos- The woman in the crowd glo­ri­fies the Moth­er of Jesus, and the Lord him­self responds that the same blessed­ness which his moth­er receives is for all “who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:27–28)

Thus, on the feast of the Nativ­i­ty of the Theotokos, as on all litur­gi­cal cel­e­bra­tions of Christ’s Moth­er, we pro­claim and cel­e­brate that through God’s gra­cious­ness to mankind every Chris­t­ian receives what the Theotokos receives, the “great mer­cy” which is giv­en to human per­sons because of Christ’s birth from the Virgin.