Sts Joachim and Anna, parents of Blessed Mary (Theotokos)

Commemorated September 9

So much attention is paid by Christians to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, sanctified in every conceivable way, that there is a tendency to overlook her parents. Commemorated the day after the commemoration of their daughter, who is remembered on other days as well, Joachim and Anna were the parents of a flesh-and-blood human being they called Mary and, therefore, the grandparents of a flesh-and-blood human being, in form at least, who died to save the world.

Considered in this light, this couple is appreciated most by the grandfathers and grandmothers of the world.

The spiritual beauty of St Anna is expressed in the Bible, equalled by that of her devoted husband, the too lightly regarded Joachim. Since there is no greater part of the divine plan of the universe than motherhood, it follows that St. Anna is given individual honour with an observance of a feast day in her name on July 26. This in no way diminishes the image of her husband St Joachim.

Shrouded by twenty centuries of legend, close scrutiny by biblical scholars has cleared away legend and established a more accurate and factual account, however meager, of Sts Joachim and Anna. There is no denying the word of the Apostle James, who saw fit to go to great lengths to glean facts about the parents of Mary which he describes in a letter that somehow failed to find official acceptance.

Conflicting views notwithstanding, it is definitely known that St Anna was of the prestigious Hebrew tribe of Levi and that she was the daughter of the high priest Nathan, wed to a namesake Mary. This high priest had two daughters besides the Mary who mothered Anna. They were called Sovin and Anna, both of whom became mothers in Bethlehem, but Anna was married in Galilee where Mary, the Theotokos, was born. There is no denying Joachim was favored of God, who answered his prayer that a child be born to the barren union with Anna. The answer was Mary, of course, and thereafter was set in motion the world's greatest faith, so overwhelming that St Joachim fades from view in misty swirls that surround the sweet mysteries of Christianity. It is enough to know St Joachim was the father of Mary, the mother who bore Jesus Christ, the divine Saviour who changed the course of world history and set it on another path which, if followed, leads to eternal life.

The fact that God moves in a mysterious way was evident when Joachim and Anna prayed for a child they knew not whether they were being granted a son or a daughter so they had no knowledge of what lay in store for them and for the world. The Apostle James has quoted an angel of the Lord as saying to Anna, "the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive and bring forth, and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world." There was no mention of the sex of the child as the Apostle James goes on to say that Anna accepted with the words: "As the Lord my God liveth if I beget male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister unto him holy things all the days of its life." The use of the word "it" indicates Anna may have had premonitions but certainly no advance notice that 'it' was to be "she," who in turn knowingly brought forth the Son of God. Indeed God does move in a mysterious way.

The Greek Orthodox Church has a hymn which sings gloriously,

"As we celebrate the remembrance of thy righteous grand- parents, through them we beseech thee, O Lord, to save our souls" .

There can be no more touching tribute than to be sung in praise and prayer in the sacred music of the Church. Another hymn contains the words,

"Anna doth rejoice now that she is loosed from the bonds of barrenness, as she nourisheth the most pure one, calling all to praise him who hath given the world her who alone is Mother, yet hath known no man".

The names of Joachim and Anna are an integral part of the Divine Liturgy, always mentioned in the prayerful conclusion of services with the words: "May the risen Christ, our true God, with the prayers of his pure and holy Mother, the power of the precious and life-giving Cross, the protection of the spiritual powers of Heaven...the holy and righteous ancestors Joachim and Anna...and all the saints whose memory we celebrate have mercy on us and save us".

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