Today’s feast is a feast of pious reverence. Monastics especially see in this feast an image of monasticism. The Mother of God dedicates herself wholly unto God, being just 3 years old. She becomes a monastic, so to speak. She is the first, and the greatest.
One of the stichera from today’s feast is this: „With gladness Anna leads to the temple of God the pure Ever-virgin given her by grace, and she calls maidens to go before her, bearing lamps and saying: Go forth, my child! Be an offering and incense of sweet savor unto Him Who gave you to us! Enter into the impassable precincts and learn the mysteries! And prepare yourself to be the gladsome and beauteous dwelling-place of Jesus, Who bestows upon the world great mercy!”
This is a beautiful image that the church hymnographer depicts for us. And I don’t think it’s far from the truth, from how the events happened in reality. The holy parents, Joachim and Anna, bring the Mother of God, the Virgin, the pure child. They know how difficult it was to have her, how much they struggled, lamented, wept, for years and years. Only they know what they went through to have this gift. And as many times mothers know to whom they have given birth, likewise Saint Anna, with her maternal intuition, knew who she had received from God: someone unspeakably exalted and beautiful. And it was evident, in the pure child, how much grace she received even from birth. These things are sensed.
Generally, in the presence of a special person, someone gifted by God – such as geniuses and saints – you know very clearly your position. The difference is light-years between you and that person gifted by God. The grace of God, when it is manifest in a person – for example, a poet, a composer, a scientist, etc. – reveals a height impossible to reach through any sort of technique or exercise, no matter how prolonged. The qualities of that person are perfect.
Although Saint Anna probably didn’t know much about the Mother of God, who was only 3 years old, she sensed all these things. She sensed how special the Mother of God’s soul was, how much grace she had. And in Saint Anna’s words, “Go forth, my child…”, it is as if we hear a voice of the entire human race which is cognizant of its weakness, cognizant that it is full of blemishes and imperfections, not to mention sins, yet which finally found a flower without blemish or stain, an exceptional flower, and now delegates her to accomplish that which the entire human race could not. No one managed to attract the goodwill of God as did this pure virgin soul. She alone could reconcile God with mankind. God found goodwill in her pure soul. Hence why the Holy Spirit says in Psalm 44: “the King will greatly desire your beauty” (v. 13). God greatly desired the Mother of God’s beauty.
Yet Saint Anna sensed, she intuited all these things and tells her daughter a message that applies to all of humanity: “You go, O Virgin, and do what you know, because we are helpless. Reconcile us with God, resolve our problems…”. This would be a way of interpreting Saint Anna’s words. And in practice, this is how we pray: “Mother of God, do what you know best, and what only you can accomplish, and cleanse me who am filthy. Reconcile me with God, like only you know how. You do everything that is impossible, because we can’t do anything.” This resembles what we say at the end of the prayer after the Akathist to the Theotokos: “And, having your intercession as our aid, we dare to approach the holy altar and to receive the grace of the most-holy and life-giving Mysteries, unworthy though we be.” This is how, in practice, we resolve our unworthiness and the incompatibility between us and our communion with God. We should not be permitted to commune with the Holy Mysteries, because we are unclean. Just as the harlot in the Gospel should not have been permitted to touch the Lord, to grasp His feet, likewise we should not be permitted to partake of Him. But, “Mother of God, resolve this issue!”, and she resolves it every time as only she knows. That is why Saint Anna tells her to “learn the mysteries,” because only she, the Virgin Mary, knows the mysteries of the pure soul, of the soul that clings to heaven and falls in love with God. And God responds to this love.
Therefore, the Mother of God did all these things, without us knowing how, but obviously we partake of her fruits and we continually require her intercession. This is an image I would like us to have on this day, to have hope and confidence toward the Mother of God. This is what she did. Saint Gregory Palamas says that the Virgin Mary interceded for the human race before she became our Lord’s Mother. As a young virgin, this was the content of her prayer. She drew near to God, she loved mankind and, in the depth of her heart, she prayed for the entire world. All this before the Annunciation. It is natural for a pure soul to do this. Therefore, par excellence, the Mother of God is our intercessor. Only she was capable, having the purity and grace required. No one else could, but she, yes.
We see another nice image depicted in Saint Anna’s word: “Be an offering and incense of sweet savor unto Him Who gave you to us.” Here we have the “dialogue of the gift”: God grants us a gift, each of us being gifts of God, and we ought to return that gift. The Mother of God is the maximal expression of man’s vocation. She offers herself entirely unto God. This is the dialogue of gifts. Whatever she receives from God, she returns unto Him. This is what we do in the Divine Liturgy as well: “Offering unto Thee Thine own of Thine own, on behalf of all and for all.” It would be good to understand the significance of this exchange. We don’t belong to ourselves. Although God gave us life and our life is ours, if we are wise, we will follow the Mother of God’s example: we give our life back to God.
In conclusion, we present some fragments from the words with which Saint Gregory Palamas adorns this feast and which explain these ideas very profoundly:
“[The Virgin Mary] led an unencumbered life without cares or occupation, free from sorrow, with no share in base passions, above that pleasure which is inseparable from pain. She lived for God alone and was sustained and preserved only by Him who was to pitch His tent among us through her. Obviously she saw only God, making God her delight and continually waiting on Him.”
“When the Holy Virgin Maid heard and understood this [the fall of Adam, his estrangement from God, the uncurbed inclination of the human race toward hell], she was filled with pity for humanity and, with the aim of finding a remedy to counteract this great affliction, she resolved at once to turn with her whole mind to God. She took it upon herself to represent us, to constrain Him who is above compulsion, and quickly draw Him towards us, that He might remove the curse from among us…”
“Having thought over these things so relevant to her, the Virgin full of grace interceded for all humanity in an amazing way defying description, seeking to converse persuasively and honestly with God.”