The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

   "Your Nativity, O Mother of God, has made joy known to the entire world, for from you, dawned the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God. He abolished the curse and gave the blessing, and by making death of no effect, He bestowed on us eternal life."(Festal Troparion)
On the 21 of September our Church acknowledges the birth of the Theotokos (Mother of God). As the Church's Liturgical Year begins on September 1st, it is only fitting that the Nativity of Mary, the Mother of God, be celebrated as the first major feast of the year. It is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation of the world, for the "Vessel of light" is being prepared on earth by God Himself in the birth of the Holy girl-child Mary. With the observation of this feast, the Church cycle of feasts begins at the very beginning of the story of God's becoming Man through the birth of the one chosen to be His most holy mother. Because God became Man, the world is no longer in darkness; rather, it is penetrated by the Light of Christ. Most importantly, we must acknowledge that Christ's human Nature is the model from which all mankind is made. In recognition of God's becoming Man, we also celebrate the major events that lead to his Nativity so that he may save all mankind.
According to tradition, Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Mother of God, were not able to bear children. 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 a 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 of "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. They vowed the dedication of their child to the service of the Lord if He found favor with their request. In answer to 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.
One of the most notable characteristics of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is the continuity with which she maintains with scripture. If one were to attend Vespers for this feast, one would hear a series of Old Testament readings. The first reading is from the Book of Genesis (28: 10 - 17). In this reading, we observe the "vision of Jacob" at Bethel where he sees in a dream a stairway (ladder) that conveyed God's messengers. The Lord speaks to Jacob saying:
"[...] the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth, and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south. In you and your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing. Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you."
Oftentimes, the term "Jacob's Ladder" is applied to the Mother of God, for she is the means by which Christ came to His people and served as the salvation of mankind. In the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God, one of the verses exclaims: "Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down: Rejoice, bridge that conveys us from earth to Heaven!" (Ikos 2). The significance of this reading as part of the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as with all other feasts of the Church, establishes a continuity with the promises of the Lord God to the Old Testament Prophets and Patriarchs through the fulfillment of God becoming Man and becoming the Sacrifice for Salvation in the New Testament.
The Gospel lesson for the Matins expresses Mary's humility and devotion to God when she visits Elizabeth who, at the time, is with child; Elizabeth's son is the Forerunner, John the Baptizer. In this Gospel, Mary is also with child, and after Elizabeth, inspired through the grace of the Holy Spirit, exclaims "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your Son," Mary sings praise: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" Mary recognizes the power of God and the duty she has been called to do as part of the God's plan of salvation.
During the Divine Liturgy, the Gospel instructs the faithful with the story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary. This lesson teaches us to focus on Christ and not to let our daily duties deter us in our love and devotion to Christ. Although people may not immediately see the significance of this Gospel in relation to the Nativity of the Mother of God, one can clearly establish a connection between Mary's humility and willingness to serve the Lord while blocking out any social or personal apprehensions. The Gospel concludes with "Blessed are those who listen to the Word of God and observe it," which further emphasizes Mary's devotion of God and the lesson that we, as Christians, are called to do the very same.
In the icon of the Nativity of the Mother of God, Saint Anne is depicted as reclining on a couch as the midwife prepares a bath for her child. She is attended by women that assisted with the birth. The central figure of the icon is the Mother of God as an innocent child. Saint Joachim gazes down at his daughter and extends his hand to her.
Let heaven rejoice and earth exalt, for the firmament of our God comes into the world; according to the promise, the Divine Bride is now born. The barren one now nurses Mary, her child; and Joachim rejoices in this birth and says: "Behold, the rod is now born to me, from which Christ shall blossom forth from the root of David. Indeed, this is a wondrous marvel!"
Taken from the Matins for the Nativity of the Mother of God (Sessional Hymn)


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