A HOMILY FOR THE AFTERFEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS
About the Nativity of the Theotokos and the Fruits of Insistent Prayer
Brothers and sisters!
Today we continue to celebrate the Nativity of the Mother of God, so it behooves me to say a word to you about the sacred events we are commemorating. This feast, the first to occur after the New Year (that is, after the beginning of the Christian Indiction), signals the beginning of our recall from death and the initiation of our re-creation according to grace, as we chant in the Dismissal Troparion: “Thy nativity, O Theotokos, hath proclaimed joy to the whole world; for from thee hath dawned the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, annulling the curse and bestowing the blessing, abolishing death and granting us life everlasting.” Today all things begin to be made new: the everlasting precepts and principles of the New Testament begin to replace the temporary ones of the Old, the spirit begins to displace the letter, and eternal truth begins to dispel the shadow of the Law.
Today a new cosmos and a mysterious paradise is revealed, from whom the Second Adam comes, remaking the old Adam and regenerating the whole universe. The New Adam is not deceived by the deceiver, as was the old; rather, He deceives him and liberates those enslaved to sin by the deceiver’s treachery. Today a wondrous book appears on earth, not inscribed with words composed of letters, but with the living Word Himself. It is not filled with words that disappear as soon as they are given voice, but with the Word who snatches all men from destruction. It is not filled with words produced by men’s tongues, but with the Word brought forth from the Father before all ages. Today, as David sings, Truth is sprung up out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven. The truest embodiment of human nobility is born of earth, but shines with heavenly grace and righteousness.
And who is this new cosmos, this mysterious paradise, this wondrous book, this truth sprung from the earth? It can be none other than Mary, the Child of God, the maiden who before, during, and after childbirth is perpetually virgin. Her blessed parents, Joachim and Anna, lived together blamelessly before God, but their fellow-Hebrews accounted them transgressors of the Law because they had no offspring. Before Christ appeared, there was no blessed immortality, so upright, outstanding descendants were the only glory of the dead. Now we regard virginity as the loftiest estate, and holy, childless monastics as most worthy of honor; but in those days to have no sons or daughters was taken as a sign of God’s disapproval.
Deeply saddened by the reproaches heaped upon them by their fellow Israelites, the righteous Joachim and Anna remembered Abraham and Sarah and the others delivered from childlessness by the Lord. They resorted to prolonged, insistent prayer, and Joachim fled to the wilderness, a place most conducive to intense prayer. Before Joachim could complete his supplication, Gabriel, the supreme commander of angels and chief messenger of God, appeared and assured him that his request would be granted. Meanwhile, Anna remained at home and secluded herself in her garden. Gabriel appeared to her as well, offering the same assurance. And the Lord fulfilled the angel’s promise, giving the holy couple a daughter more wondrous than all His divine wonders from the ages: she who would become Mother of her own Creator; she who made the human race divine, who turned earth into heaven, who made the Son of God the Son of man, and made men sons of God. For Mary, the child of Saints Joachim and Anna, conceived without seed and gave flesh to the pre-eternal Word, Who brought all things out of non-being, re-creates them by grace better than at their first creation, and ever maintains them in existence.
Coming forth from a barren womb, Mary ended her parents’ sorrow and did away with their disgrace, by this hinting that the Redeemer Who would come forth from her would deliver all the righteous Forefathers from the grief and curse of Hades. Mary alone would dwell in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, and she alone would become the Holy of Holies in whom the Most Holy would dwell bodily. No one before or after her ever lived in the Holy of Holies, and never before or after her was there another virgin mother or another Mother of God. Mary was manifested as the daughter with all virtues, born of parents who were highly virtuous: the All-pure One sprung from a couple highly chaste. Through prayer, chastity gave birth to virginity, which in turn brought forth without corruption the divinity begotten of the virgin Father before all ages.
See, brothers and sisters, what wings Joachim and Anna’s prolonged, insistent prayer had! This shows that such prayer is the means of attracting all the blessings that God, in His infinite love and goodness, pours out upon us. If you want your prayer to bear fruit, then you must have warm, living faith, expressed by insistent prayer, such as Saints Joachim and Anna had. In His rich mercy and loving-kindness, God wishes to give you every blessing that you need. Warm, living faith is like a vessel, into which the Lord pours the treasures of His blessings. The bigger, the more capacious your vessel, the greater the gifts your prayer will bring. For it was the Lord Himself Who said, And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Only, I repeat, if you want your prayer to be heard and to bear fruit, as did the prayer of Saints Joachim and Anna, then you must have the same tireless diligence as they. The Apostle directs, Continue in prayer, and watch in the same. Humble patience, tirelessness, and persistence in prayer conquer the unconquerable God and incline Him to mercy. Remember the Lord’s parable about how the persistence of the widow inclined the wicked, unjust judge to grant her petition. The Lord told this parable for the express purpose of teaching us not to faint, but to pray patiently, as we read in the Gospel: And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. If the unjust judge was inclined to mercy by the widow’s persistence, then how can the all-just God fail to incline His ear to our persistent prayer? As I said, God is always eager to pour out His blessings on a person who asks as he ought. If the Lord does not grant the particular blessing such a person requests, it can only be because it is better that the petition remain unfulfilled, for reasons perhaps only God, in His infinite wisdom, can know. In this case, the Lord sends instead some other good, more profitable to the person, whether the person realizes it or not. Therefore, if you do not get what you ask for, or what God does send is not obvious to you, understand the reason for this. Always be patient in prayer, and believe firmly that prayer always bears fruit. Also, if you cannot see the fruit, consider your unworthiness and turn to humble thoughts and feelings. If such considerations and meditations are the consequences, direct or indirect, of your prayer, then you have gained something extremely profitable.
Finally, brothers and sisters, if you want your prayer to be effectual, remember what the divine James, the Brother of God, teaches us: The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. To your prayer unite the prayers of the angels, archangels, prophets, apostles, holy fathers and mothers, your guardian angel, the saint whose name you bear, and the saint who is the patron of the church in which you always pray. Prefacing your prayer with their intercessions, you preface it with your humility, the virtue that pleases God best of all. Most importantly, preface your prayer with the prayer of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Queen of heaven and earth, our Mother and God’s Mother. Nowhere on earth or above or below is there such powerful prayer as hers. Her nativity has truly “proclaimed joy to the whole world,” and her all-powerful entreaties enable the poor prayers of us sinners as nothing else can. So, avail yourself of her prayers as you celebrate this feast and all her feasts, and at every hour of every day, and her Son will grant you the joy of true prayer and the fruits thereof, as once He did His holy forebears, Saints Joachim and Anna. Amen.
 Ps. 84:11
 Matt. 21:22
 Col. 5:2
 Luke 18:1
 James 5:16