Conception by St Anna: Unceasing prayer

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we celebrate the conception by Saint Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos. Saint Anna, Saint Joachim, and Most Holy Theotokos, pray for us.

Saints Joachim and Anna were a pious and loving couple, and have been married for 50 years but were childless. They saved only one third of their income for themselves, and gave the rest to the poor and the temple. One day, when Saint Joachim wanted to offer sacrifice to God in Jerusalem, he was deemed unworthy by the high priest and the community. He was greatly grieved as every righteous man in the nation was blessed with children, except him. In grief, he went up the mountain with his flock, while Saint Anna prayed at home. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, and told them that a daughter most blessed would be their child, who will bring blessings to the world through her birth of the savior of the world. Saints Joachim and Anna rushed to meet each other, and embraced at the city gate, which is the most common icon of the two saints. Saint Anna soon conceived, and gave birth to Blessed Mary. Saint Joachim lived till 80 and Saint Anna till 79, leaving Blessed Mary an orphan at 10 years old.

While we remember the ancestors of our beloved Christ and Lord, let us also reflect on the concept of fertility.

Saints Joachim and Anna were pious, for the entire life, and were then blessed with Blessed Mary, our beloved Theotokos. Let us reflect on the lives of the two saints, and see they can inspire our faith in God. Sometimes, throughout our lives, we may be actively seeking God, as we hope to ascend the ladder towards God, the fertile path which we seek, if not often a constant. We may find and find, and yet seem never to find God, throughout years, even decades. But God does not ever intend that we despair and lose hope. Rather, the entire journey of faithfully praying unto God, will be a reflection of the blessed Saints Joachim and Anna, who were only blessed with our Holy Theotokos, after almost a whole life of pious faith.

Therefore, the fertility of faith is not measured by how loud we pray, how outwardly pious we seem to be in the company of other people, or how strict we seem to adhere to the laws of God. Rather, God is looking at our hearts. Moses was the epitome of one who was leaning on God’s heart (Numbers 12:7-8).

If we are truly pious and prayerful, every action of ours, will be an image and action of Christ. Every task we do, we will be reflecting, thinking, and conversing with God. Prayer does not have to be confined to finite, liturgical prayers we do together, or following the daily rule. Prayer can be everything we do, every breath we take, as long as every second we are thinking of God. It is not going to be easy, but God’s mercy and grace will be extended to us, when He sees that our hearts are truly after His heart.

Some monks visited Abba Lucius, one of the Desert Fathers. They said, “Abba, we follow Saint Paul’s command to pray without ceasing. So we do not work.” The old Abba Lucius asked, “Don’t you eat and sleep?” The monks answered, “Yes we do.” Abba Lucius then asked, “Who prays for you when you sleep? My brothers, you do not pray unceasingly. Let me show you how I pray without ceasing AND work with my hands.”

“Through God’s mercy, I gather some palm leaves and weave them, saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, and forgive my sins.’ Is this considered prayer?” The monks agreed that it was prayer.

Then Abba Lucius said, “When I have worked and prayed in my heart whole day, I sell my weavings for a few coins. I put 2 coins outside my door and the rest I buy food. He who finds the 2 coins will pray for me while I eat and sleep, and so by the mercy of God I pray without ceasing.”

Let us remember that how fertile our faith is depends on what is in our hearts. We are to be brave and hardworking, and keep God in our thoughts all the time. That is prayer of the heart. We must never be complacent, or pray like the Pharisees. At the same time, we are to remember those in need, and they will pray for our souls as well even as we extend our hands to help them or pray for them. Remember to always see others in the image of Christ.

Let us keep the prayer of the heart close to us, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Numbers 12:7-8
Psalm 127 (LXX)
St Luke 8:16-21
Galatians 4:22-27