The Nativity of the Theotokos

nativityofthetheotokosToday marks the birth of the Mother of God on the calendar of the Orthodox Church (New Calendar). It is one of the twelve major feasts of the year. It is also a feast which shares a great deal in common with many other events in the course of Scripture – all of which emphasize the character of our salvation.

The story of Mary’s conception and birth, as received by Tradition in the Orthodox faith, is similar to many stories within Scripture: it is the story of fruitfulness within the context of barrenness. The account tells us that Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, were elderly. St. Joachim served as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem – his wife had never given him a child. In the story, Joachim bears the reproach of his fellow priests. He and Anna offer prayers to God in their barrenness and God shows mercy: they conceive a child and become the parents of her who is to be the Mother of our Lord.

The story of barrenness is common in the Old Testament. Abraham and Sarah cannot have a child. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, cannot have a child. God hears their prayers and gives a blessing. From their barrenness will come the salvation of Israel.

The ultimate barrenness in this understanding is the virginal womb of Mary. How can a virgin give birth to a child and yet remain a virgin? All the stories of barrenness in Scripture look forward  to and prefigure this final barren womb. God will bring fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Mary’s fruitfulness itself is a prefigurement of the cosmic barrenness of a world that has cut itself off from God. Hades is the ultimate barrenness. There the dead cannot even offer praise. But Christ becomes the “firstborn of the dead” – a phrase that is so rich in contradiction and paradox that it is often overlooked. How can death yield life? How can the barrenness of Hades yield a firstborn anything? And yet it does.

God, Who so loves the world, has emptied Himself and entered the most barren of all places. There He has trampled down death by death and made a path to the resurrection for all. Hades becomes the place of new birth. Thus it is into Christ’s death we are Baptized that we might be raised in the likeness of His resurrection.

These things remind us that the barrenness of our own lives are not the final say. God brings life from death and undoes the emptiness of the universe by making it full.

May She who was born this day, the mother of God the Word, pray for us all that we, too, might be fruitful bearers of the word of God to the praise of the glory of His grace!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





7 responses to “The Nativity of the Theotokos”

  1. Eric Avatar

    Lovely reflection. Thank you.

  2. Stephen Avatar

    Thank you. This gives hope!

  3. George Patsourakos Avatar

    Christians need to be forever grateful to the Theotokos for giving birth to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

    The Virgin Mary’s birth of Jesus has resulted in all Christians being saved, and the death of death.

  4. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    “God will bring fruitfulness out of barrenness.” Good to keep in mind, when I review the barren content of my own life. Thanks, Father!

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. Most of what we think of as our life is barrenness. Such a good God.

  6. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    “O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! O glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew.”
    St. John of Damascus, Homily I (ante 749 AD).

  7. Dusty Henry Avatar
    Dusty Henry

    Communion is everything. And the barrenness of our own lives. But can a life in communion ever be barren?

    Yes, a barrenness that is full. Emptied of me to be filled with Him. And I become an earthen vessel with hidden treasure. Mary was such a vessel, and an example for us.

    Perhaps what the Theotokos shows us is that our life is not barren. Every one of us lets Christ be born in our heart. We together are the fullness of Him who fills all and all. Is there one of my brothers and sisters that does not bear fruit? The least of our number is great.

    When I honor the virgin I know some honor also in my self. That one of our race was chosen. And thus hope spread to all mankind. When my sister Mary is honored then I feel proud too. I am honored to know her- to be her brother. What an honor to be counted as one of her family. And how humbling. That I, a sinner, should be one of her children.

    The Theotokos, the greatest wonder in history. I am full of wonder that God should have us cooperate in the salvation of the world. That I too should carry Jesus in my being. That he is born in us. It is wonder ineffable.

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