07 December 2012

(Immaculate) Conception of the Theotokos

"O Virgin, you gave birth to the Giver of life; from sin you delivered Adam, while to Eve you have rendered joy in place of sorrow. He who was from you made incarnate, God and man, has directed to life him who fell from it." 
(From Matins for the Feast of Conception of St. Anne, Mother of the Most Holy Theotokos)

The Feast of the Conception of St Anne, celebrated on December 9th in most Orthodox Churches (and December 8th by many Eastern Catholics) is an ancient celebration of the Church. It reflects the stories found in texts that are outside the canon of the New Testament though part of Tradition and the belief of the Church itself that Mary's Conception was sanctified and holy.

In the Roman Catholic Church December 8th is called the feast of the Immaculate Conception. In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December 1854, Pope Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."

Orthodox Christians do not have a doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, even though they refer to Mary as Immaculate, without spot, undefiled, Panagia (All-Holy) and Most Pure. This is because Orthodox Tradition identifies original sin as physical and spiritual death, not as the inheritance of Adam's guilt or sinfulness. Yet, the Canon for the feast of Mary's Nativity calls her sinless from her conception and the kontakion by St. Romanos blunty says: "Delivered from the guilt of sin, thy people keep the feast as they sing unto thee." Also, consider the Matins Sessional hymn for the feast of Mary's entry into the Temple: "To the divine temple thou art brought, thyself a Temple, truly divine, innocent from the time thou wast a babe."

Regardless of the different views on original sin, let all Christians of true worship celebrate the feast. Let us thank God for the miracle that began our salvation--the Mother of God in the womb of a barren elderly woman.

Father, the image of the Virgin is found in your Church. Mary had a faith that your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin, for you kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our hearts her readiness of faith. Prepare once again a world for your Son who lives and reigns with your and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen  
(Catholic prayer for the Solemnity Of The Immaculate Conception)


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