Thursday, September 8, 2016

Nativity of Mary

             Giotto's "Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary"
Today is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Orthodox Christianity, her birth is also celebrated on this day, as the Nativity of the Theotokos. The day is nine months after the solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception (December 8th). Her birth is recorded not in the canonical scriptures but in the second-century Infancy Gospel (Protoevangelium) of James, chapter 5, while the feast itself dates from the fifth century. (The text of the James writing can be found here.) She is one of the few persons whose birth rather than death date are commemorated by the church, because of her special place in the history of salvation. This site gives information about the Western feast, while this site provides material on the Eastern observance.

I enjoy studying the Orthodox prayer book The Festal Menaion (1). A former student recommended the book for the beauty of the prayers' language. As someone who likes to discover continuities between the two testaments, I love how the words weave themes and images from across the Bible. Here are some of the prayers and words of praise in the liturgy for Mary's birth (pp. 98-130):

"O Undefiled, by thy holy Nativity Joachim and Ann were set free from the reproach of childlessness, and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. Delivered from the guilt of sin, Thy people keep the feast as they sing unto thee: The barren woman bears the Theotokos who sustains our life."

"The bush on the mountain that was not consumed by fire, and the Chaldean furnace that brought refreshment as the dew, plainly prefigured thee, O Bride of God. For in a material womb, unconsumed thou hast received the divine and immaterial fire."

"Thou wise parents, O Undefiled, brought thee, who art the Holy of Holies, as an offering to the house of the Lord, there to be reared in holiness and made ready to become His Mother... Thou art become a golden censer, for the Fire made His tabernacle in thy womb, even the Word from the Holy Spirit..."

"She is the divine sanctuary of the eternal Essence; through her cruel hell has been trampled under foot, and Eve with all her line is established secure in life..."

"O Undefiled, in thy birth are not fulfilled the prophecies of those inspired by God, who in their faith called thee Tabernacle and Gate, spiritual Mountain, Bush and Rod of Aaron sprung from the root of David."

"Come, O ye people, and let us sing a song to Christ our God, who divided the sea and through it led His people , whom He had brought out of Egyptian bondage: for he has been glorified... Today the Bridge of Life is born. Through her mortal men, fallen into hell, find their way up again, and they glorify in song Christ the Giver of Life."

"Blessed is thy womb, O Ann sober in spirit, for it brought forth the fruit of virginity, even her that without seed bore Jesus, the food and the Deliverer of creation. The whole creation calls thee blessed, O ever-Virgin born today of Ann: thou spotless branch of the root of Jesse, that brought forth Christ as flower."


1. Translated by Mother Mary of the Orthodox Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, Bussy-en-Othe, France, and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware of the University of Oxford. Published in South Canaan, PA by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998.

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