In the service for the feast of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos there are the following words: “In the sorrow of their barrenness, the wise parents of the Mother of God cried out unto the Lord, and they gave birth to Her unto all generations, for universal salvation and glory.”
Let us ponder this moment, my dear brethren. We see before us the righteous Joachim and Anna – venerable and pious, faithful spouses, issuing from an ancestry of kings and priests, God-fearing, keeping all God’s commandments, known for their humility and charity. And yet this model couple is the object of scorn and humiliation on the part of their neighbors! How can that be? It is because the years go by and by, and they have already reached old age, and still the Lord has not given them any children.
In those times every Jew hoped, through his descendants, to participate in the kingdom of the Messiah. Therefore, every Jew who was childless was scorned by others, because barrenness was considered to be God’s great punishment for sins.
This was especially hard for Joachim to endure, being a descendant of King David and knowing that Christ the Saviour was to be born of his ancestry. And so what do the righteous Joachim and Anna do? Despite being mocked by others for so many years, they do not grumble against the Lord, they do not abandon their virtuous life, but humbly continue to endure, to endure and hope, to hope and – despite their very old age – to have faith in God’s mercy. As the church hymn tells us, in the sorrow of their barrenness they cry out unto the Lord, i.e. they tearfully pray to him.
And what is the result of this humility, patience, faith, hope and prayer? Once again we receive the answer in the church hymn: they, the wise parents, receive a heavenly gift from God – the One Who is higher than the cherubim, Who is birth-giver to God the Word, – and they give birth to Her unto all generations, for universal salvation and glory.
Such is the extraordinary gift earned by the righteous Joachim and Anna – they give birth to the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin Mary, and in Her nativity they themselves are glorified for all ages!
But why did they have to wait so long? The Lord was not punishing them for their sins – they were already righteous and pure; the Lord was not testing their patience and humility – they had already exhibited these virtues abundantly. No, dear brethren, they had to wait for so long until the time was right. Herein lies the key – they had to wait until the time was right.
The Holy Virgin, as the future Mother of God, had to be the purest vessel possible in humanity. Because of this She had to come from the purest parents possible: for this reason the righteous Joachim and Anna had to wait until they were purified of all human passions by means of humility, patience and old age. And then, when the right time came, they – who had so meekly accepted God’s will and the fate which the Lord had meted out to them – now received such wondrous comfort.
Does not the same happen in our lives, dear brethren? We often find ourselves in a state of spiritual barrenness: we are subjected to sorrows and hardships, and we pray to God without apparently receiving any comfort, or we ask for the fulfillment of some spiritually-beneficial wish – and it is not fulfilled. And so we begin to think that this is punishment for our sins – and we fall into despair, we begin to lose hope, we even begin to grumble against the Lord.
No, dear brethren! The Lord often tarries with the fulfillment of our wishes not because He does not hear our prayers or punishes us for our sins, but because the right time has not yet come. We do not know God’s will for us, while the Lord sees our entire life, knows what we need and when we need it, knows what is best for us and when.
Therefore, let us follow the example of the righteous Joachim and Anna: let us patiently wait and patiently pray, let us meekly accept the will of God, let us have absolute hope of God’s mercy and absolute faith in His providence, let us have faith in that the Lord hears all our prayers, all our cries, sees all our sorrows, knows all our needs, and that He will send us what we need when we need it. Amen.