Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos, the Prophetess Hannah, and the Consecration of the Church of the Resurrection
TODAY the Church celebrates the conception of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Prophetess Hannah, and the Consecration of the Church of the Holy Resurrection of Christ our God.
Many are familiar with the story of Hannah (cf. 1 Sam. 1). Like Sarah before her, Hannah was barren, until she went up to the temple. There she prayed with great weeping, begging God to give her a son and vowing, if granted, to give him back to service in the temple as a Nazarite. God granted her request, she conceived the Prophet Samuel, and she kept her vow, dedicating him to the temple.
Anna too was barren. After fifty years of marriage to Joachim, they were still childless. Joachim and Anna were “holy and righteous”, as the Church calls them to this day. They only used a third of their income for themselves, giving another third to the Temple and the other third to the poor. After consulting the genealogical records and realizing that every righteous man in Israel had been blessed with children, he and his wife were greatly grieved and began asking God for a child in their old age, as God had done with Abraham and Sarah. They both set out to pray, St. Joachim to the mountains with his flocks, and Anna to her garden. And they made a vow to God that if He gave them a child they would dedicate him or her to the Temple, as Hannah had done. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to both of them, announcing the good news that they would bear “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” St. Joachim returned home and met St. Anna at the city gate where they embraced in pious love and gratitude, as portrayed in traditional iconography. St. Anna conceived Mary, who was dedicated to the Temple at the age of three and would eventually become the Mother of God.
The Church frequently refers to the Mother of God as the Temple of God. Indeed, at the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel, the Son of God chose to take on flesh and dwell in the womb of Mary so that He might heal wounded humanity by conquering death through His own death, burial, and resurrection. And so it is fitting that today we also commemorate the consecration of the Church of the Resurrection, a church built over the site where Christ was crucified and buried, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.
Listen to the beautiful way St. John of Damascus and St. Andrew of Crete make these connections in the first ode of Matins for today’s feast day:
St. John of Damascus: Canon of the Consecration
O Christ, Who formerly didst guide Thy people Israel with a pillar, through the laver of Baptism, Thou hast planted on Sion the Church which crieth out: Let us sing a song unto our God.
Today the visitation of Thine unapproachable glory hath prepared the temple fixed on earth for Thee as a heaven, wherein we chant with one voice: Let us sing a song unto our God.
Not by the Law is the Church made fair, O Lord, neither by the stretching-out of servants’ hands; but in the grace of the Cross doth she glory, while chanting unto Thee: Let us sing a song unto our God
St. Andrew of Crete: Canon of St. Anna
We celebrate thy conception today, O godly-minded Anna; for thou, loosing the bonds of barrenness, hast conceived her who contained Him that in no wise can be contained.
Hearkening unto the entreaties of the just, O Lord, Thou didst fulfil Thy holy ancestors’ supplications; and Thou gavest them as fruit the pure Virgin who gave Thee birth.
Glorious Anna now conceiveth the pure one who conceived the incorporeal Lord, the transcendently Good; and she shall give birth unto her that shall give birth unto Christ in the flesh.
Let us imitate the generosity, piety, and prayerfulness of St. Anna (and St. Joachim) as we continue our journey toward the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And let us rejoice today in the conception of the Mother of God, who would dwell in the Temple and whose womb would become a temple which would contain the uncontainable, our Savior, the Word of God made flesh.
Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.