All the world celebrates Anna conception on this day with festive joy, because it came to pass through God; for by divine grace as has conceived her that beyond words conceives the Word of God. — Kontakion for the Feast of St. Anna’s Conception of the Theotokos
Today is one of my favorite feasts of the Church. It isn’t one of the major feasts, but there are some major implications because the Church does observe it. This is a celebration of marriage and the marriage bed — both are given to us by God and have salvific value. Without the marriage of Joachim and Anna and without their marriage bed we aren’t saved. The Virgin Mary never gets born, and Christ does not take on flesh through her. In other words, marriage and the marriage bed are integral parts of the history of salvation.
Indeed, the institution of marriage is seen as a means by which we learn how to love as God loves and thus it can become for us a foretaste of the Kingdom. In the Orthodox Church, married couples are crowned as martyrs during the marriage service. This is done to remind us that the successful marriage is one where we sacrifice ourselves for our spouse.
Note how the Kontakion of the feast declares that the conception of the Theotokos comes to pass through God. This is true of all conceptions. God works through us and through the marriage bed. This is a powerful condemnation of the pro-abortion stance that currently enjoys legal acceptance in the United States. More than being a human being from the moment of conception, every aborted child is a gift given and created by God.
Note the beauty of today’s Apolytikion:
Today the bonds of childlessness are loosed; for God hearkened to Joachim and Anna. And though it was beyond hope, He clearly promised that they should bear a divine child, from whom was born the Uncircumscribable One Himself Who became a mortal, and through and Angel commanded them to cry unto her: Rejoice, you who are full of grace; the Lord is with you! — Apolytikion for the Feast of St. Anna’s Conception of the Theotokos
Joachim and Anna conceived Mary in their old age. Anna had been barren and childless. Their ability to have a child had long since come and gone. It was beyond hope, yet, nothing is impossible with God. We should never give up hope, even when the world tells us there is none.
Finally, a note about the word “immaculate” which was added to this feast by our Catholic brothers and sisters. Orthodox Christians have rejected this dogma because it is unnecessary. Though we believe in ancestral sin — we live with the consequences of the Fall — it is not an inheritance of guilt or stain. I would go further and challenge the dogma from the perspective of our humanity. If the Theotokos was immaculately conceived, does not that mean that her conception was radically different than ours? And does that not mean her humanity is different than ours? And would that not mean that the humanity taken from her by Christ is different from ours? Ultimately, doesn’t this call into question the salvific function of the Incarnation? If we accept St. Gregory the Theologian’s dictum that what God has not assumed, God has not saved, does not the Immaculate Conception render all of our humanity, which would be different from Mary’s humanity, not assumed and therefore not saved?