Russia Religion Subjects Virgin Mary The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

The Orthodox festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was established in Byzantium in the fifth century. The main literary source was an apocryphal work called the Gospel of St James, which was written in the second or third century.

Joachim and Anna were a devout couple whose lives were spent in righteous acts. They were childless, however, which at that time was regarded as a great affliction and a punishment for sins. Every one of the tribe of Israel dreamt of begetting issue, in the hope of bringing the Messiah into the world. Joachim and his wife were descended from King David, and it was prophesied that Christ would be born to this royal line. Although they were both elderly, Joachim and Anna continued to pray to God for a child. The Lord saw their patience and faith and decided to grant their wish. Anna gave birth to a daughter and called her Mary, which in Hebrew is Miriam. Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate Mary to serving the Lord.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin is one of the twelve major festivals of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a celebration filled with intense joy, as the birth of the Theotokos represents the final preparation for the coming of the Divinity and the rejuvenation of mankind. The hymn “Rejoice, Joachim, a Son will be born to thy Daughter” is sung at the church service in honour of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

This subject was popular in Byzantine art from the eleventh century onwards. In the thirteenth century, the main components of the composition passed into Russian icon-painting and frescoes, where they evolved independently. Russian icons generally depict Mary’s mother Anna reclining on a couch, guests bearing gifts, Anna’s husband Joachim, servants preparing to wash the newly born infant and the scene around the baby’s cradle. The ablution of Mary recalls the approaching baptism of Jesus and the rest of mankind, while the cradle with Mary in swaddling clothes is a prototype of the future birth of the Saviour.

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