Icon of the Holy and Righteous Joachim and Anna in the church of Grand Duchess Elisabeth
(St. Elisabeth Convent in Minsk)
On December 22, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the Conception by the Righteous Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos. We know about this event from the Protoevangelium of James, while the actual feast was established no later than the 7th century. On this day, we rejoice together with the righteous Joachim and Anna glorifying the Lord who gave them their long-awaited Child and celebrating the beginning of the earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos.
The Holy Righteous Joachim and Anna lived in Nazareth. They were modest, loved God and lived a life of moderation, annually giving two-thirds of their income to the Jerusalem Temple and to the poor. According to Tradition, the righteous father of the Mother of God was a descendant of King David, while Her mother was a daughter of the priest Mattan. As we know from the prophecy of Isaiah, the Messiah was to come from the lineage of David.
“ A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord ... On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious." (Is 11:1-10) Jesse is the father of the holy king and Prophet David.
For fifty years of their married life Joachim and Anna had to endure reproach because of childlessness, since among the Jews it was considered a punishment from God. However, they meekly bore this burden, trusting in God, observing fasts and supporting each other with love and prayer.
Joachim and Anna. Detail of the fresco "The Sacrifice of Joachim and Anna".
Late 12th century. St. George's Church, Staraya Ladoga
Once, when Joachim, according to custom, came to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to God, the high priest Issachar refused to accept it, saying that Joachim must be a very sinful person, if God was punishing him so severely. Joachim did not return home on that day. Instead, he went into the wilderness in grief and spent 40 days there in strict fasting and prayer.
Anna, having learned about what had happened, prayed to God with tears for the gift of a child. Suddenly a bright angel appeared before her and said, "Anna, the Lord has heard your prayers. You will give birth to a child, and in your seed all generations will be blessed. You shall call your daughter Mary, and through her salvation shall be bestowed upon the whole world.”
The same angel appeared to righteous Joachim, who was praying at that moment in the desert, and said, “The Lord has accepted your prayers. Your wife will bear you a daughter, and the whole world will rejoice about her. Go to Jerusalem, and there, at the Golden Gate, you will find your wife, to whom I have also announced this."
After some time, a daughter was born to the pious spouses and, according to Jewish custom, on the fifteenth day after her birth they gave her the name Mary, as instructed by the Angel. Mary in Hebrew means "lady”, or “hope".
In becoming the Mother of the Saviour, Mary indeed became Our Lady and the Hope of all God's creation.
There are several iconographic types for the feast of the Conception by the Righteous Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Perhaps the most famous and endearing of them is the one where the righteous Joachim and Anna are shown embracing each other after Joachim returns from the desert. In the background there is the Golden Gate of Jerusalem and the Holy City itself.
The temple towering over the city signifies the Old Testament Jerusalem sanctuary, in which the sacrifice of Joachim and Anna was rejected. Here there was also the stone on which Jacob was sleeping when he saw in a dream the heavenly ladder - a prototype of the Mother of God.
This icon is also called "the Meeting at the Golden Gate".
Miniature from Menologion of Basil II (Constantinople, 985). Vatican Library. Rome.
On another icon, the righteous Anna is depicted with the child Mary sitting on her left arm. Anna's posture and expression show concentration and reverence. The face of the future Mother of God is turned with tenderness towards Her mother.
Childless couples pray to the holy righteous Joachim and Anna for fertility. Being in advanced years, they did not cease their prayers, asking God with faith and hope for the gift of a child. The Lord answered their prayers at the right time.
By His ineffable power, He gave Anna the ability to conceive and bear a child at the age when nature itself closes the womb of a woman for childbearing (Anna was 74). This shows us how righteous parents, with their humility, love and trust in God, can make it possible for a miracle to come true.
May we, following the example of the righteous Godparents Joachim and Anna, be diligent and persevering in our prayers and petitions. Most importantly, even in the most difficult situations, let us not despair and always have a firm conviction that the Lord will certainly fulfil in due time everything that is necessary and useful for us.
Holy Righteous Joachim and Anna, parents of the Most Holy Theotokos
("The Caress of the Infant Mary"). Greek icon of the 16th century.
Byzantine Museum in Kastoria, Greece.
O ever-glorious and righteous forbearers of Christ, holy Joachim and Anna who stand before the heavenly throne of the great King and possess boldness before Him; He was well pleased to become incarnate of your all-blessed Daughter, the all-pure Birth-giver of God and Ever-virgin Mary.
We, the sinful and unworthy, come to you as mighty intercessors and diligent advocates for us. Entreat His goodness, that He may turn away His wrath from us, which we deserve because of our deeds and that, overlooking our countless transgressions, He may turn us to the way of repentance and set us firmly upon the path of His commandments. By your supplications preserve our life in peace, asking our Merciful God that we may be successful in good things. By your intercession, may He grant to us all things necessary for life and piety and may He deliver us from all peril, misfortune and sudden death. May He allow us to live out our lives in peace and tranquillity, in all piety and purity. Having thus passed from this transitory life in peace, may we attain unto everlasting rest, where by your holy entreaty, may we be granted the heavenly Kingdom of Christ our God, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship with the Father and all-Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.