The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin. In this feast, we celebrate the miracle which God worked in the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anna, who were His faithful servants, but were never blessed with a child. Childlessness was a hardship for them. They had reached old age and had borne no children! In those days, barrenness was considered punishment from God for sins, and thus everywhere they went, people could look at them and judge them as sinners simply because they had no child. In fact, when Joachim went to the Temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest because of his childlessness (remember, at that time it meant “apparent sinfulness”). It was at this point that Joachim went off to the hills to earnestly pray for a child.
Meanwhile, Anna was in Jerusalem at their home wondering where he was, while also praying for a child. While they were praying one day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of them, telling them that their prayers had been heard, and they would be given a daughter whose name would be known through all the world. He told Joachim to go back to Jerusalem, and he told Anna to wait for Joachim at the Golden Gate. They both believed the angel and obeyed him. So when Joachim arrived back at Jerusalem, there was Anna, waiting for him at the Golden Gate! God kept His promise to them by allowing them to conceive the Theotokos.
So, why do we celebrate this feast? The Kontakion of the feast tells us why:
“By your nativity, most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness, Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: ‘The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.’” In other words, we are not just celebrating the miracle of Sts. Joachim and Anna’s release from barrenness. Through Mary, the child given to them, Christ was born. And through His birth, death, and resurrection, Adam and Eve were released from Hades; and we ourselves are set free from the guilt of our sin. So, why would we NOT celebrate this feast?!?
Below are some links that can help us learn more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Other links will help us teach our students about the feast. If you are not teaching about it this week, tuck the ideas away for a future year.
We hope you had a blessed celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!
“[The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos] is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation of the world. For the “Vessel of Light,” the “Book of the Word of Life,” the “Door to the Orient,” the “Throne of Wisdom” is being prepared on earth by God Himself in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary. The verses of the feast are filled with titles for Mary such as those in the quotations above. They are inspired by the message of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. The specific Biblical readings of the feast give indications of this.” Read about the Scripture passages in this article: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/nativity-of-the-theotokos
This article is great background for any Sunday Church School teacher. It would also be a great discussion starter for older Sunday Church School classes, who could look up the verses being quoted and discuss the “type and fulfillment” that happens in scripture again and again, this time in the context of the life of the Theotokos.
Find an explanation of the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as well as a gallery of this icon as written by different iconographers, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-icon/
With middle-years students, look at the different icons together and find each detail mentioned in the explanation, and note how it is written in each icon.
Find a plethora of information, as well as thought provoking and inspirational encouragement related to the Nativity of the Theotokos in this wonderful book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth
If you teach young Sunday Church School students, consider having a blue class day. Celebrate the birth of the Mother of God with lots of blue, the Theotokos’ color! Dress in blue; decorate the classroom with blue; eat a “blue” snack (including as many blue things as possible: maybe crackers with blue cheese or blue tortilla chips with salsa, fruit kabobs including blueberries, blue finger jello, etc.); you get the idea! Find this and other fun ideas, as well as a printable wheel for all of the feast days here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/nativity-theotokos-0
The Department of Christian Education of the OCA has a downloadable series of lesson plans on the Theotokos here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos
Lesson 1 is about the Nativity of the Theotokos, and is offered at 5 different age group levels. Lessons include reproducible pages of readings, icons, music, and more! If you are planning to teach a lesson on this feast, you will want to check these lesson plans to help you prepare.