(Re)learning to Wait: the Nativity of the Theotokos and other September Feasts

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On September 8, we commemorate the nativity—or birth—of the Theotokos. It’s the first of the twelve major feasts of the Orthodox calendar following the start of the ecclesiastical new year on September 1st. With this particular feast, the annual narrative of Christ’s life, death and resurrection begins anew. The previous Church year, which concluded with the falling asleep (Dormition) of the Theotokos, now recommences with her birth. In a way, then, the lifespan of the Theotokos—as commemorated liturgically—contains that of Christ, temporally, just as her womb bore the incarnate Son of God.   

Summer can be its own kind of desert—there’s not a lot of clear purpose and the heat can be brutal. In gardening, it’s a time of faithful maintenance, of watering and weeding and growing. And hoping. In the end, if all goes well, there will be a harvest. But in the middle, it’s easy to grow weary in our toil, and it’s easy—in life—to fall away from nourishing the soil of our heart.

However faithful we’ve been (or haven’t been), in September, things slowly give way to something new.

It is—in nature, as well as in the Church—a time of provision, of bounty. The desert of summer is being tamed as nature “bring[s] forth food from the earth” (Psalm 104:14).

In the Church, too, we are surrounded by things—people, actually, and salvation—being brought forth from long seasons of waiting and growing. I’ve already mentioned the Nativity of the Theotokos. But there are others to remember as well:

  • September 5: the commemoration of Holy Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of St. John the Baptist, who were unable to conceive until the angel Gabriel appeared to them, foretelling the birth of the Forerunner.
  • September 9: The Synaxis of Righteous Joachim and Anna, parents of the Theotokos. The Protoevangelion tells us that they were barren for many years. Although they remained faithful in prayer, their childlessness was a source of real shame. Finally, God heard their prayers; an angel appeared separately to both Anna and Joachim foretelling the birth of their daughter, Mary, whose name would be known throughout the world.

  • September 14: The elevation of the holy cross, when St. Helen miraculously found and recovered the Holy Cross from a pagan temple that had been erected on the original site of the Passion.
  • September 23: The conception of St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was the “Forerunner” to Christ.   

The people we remember on these feast days were intimately acquainted with long droughts of waiting and faithfulness. They spent much of their lives hoping in the goodness of God to draw new life, new indications of salvation, from the deserts of their existence.

We come to God in this new ecclesiastical year with our own waitings and questions, our own harvest or lack thereof, our own fullness or emptiness. But one of the most beautiful aspects of the Church calendar is that it re-invites us back into the ongoing arc of life and salvation regardless of how barren our fields have become these last, long months since Pascha.

And so, we are welcomed back. Back into time transfigured, back into the bounty of salvation.

But we are also called back into the arena of waiting, and faithfulness. We are led back to a place of hope. The nativity of the Theotokos reminds us of where we are going, but also that it will take time and as a result, waiting—something we are not always very good at.

A year is a long time. It is long enough to lose your way, and find it again. It is long enough to despair and struggle for hope. Yet we are presented right off the bat with people and objects who in their humanity withstood the despair that time, circumstance and waiting can affect us with—Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joachim and Anna, St. Helen and St. John the Forerunner and the Theotokos, and the Holy Cross itself, waiting to be found.

With these souls as our vanguards in both time and eternity, may we “go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (Isaiah 55:12).

10 comments:

  1. Hi Nicole,

    I loved this post……the idea of waiting …….patiently, faithfully,………in such a stark contrast with the crazy fast pace life in western society………..we are so accustomed now with FAST life, food, highway driving, fast results, getting rich fast, learning a new language fast……everything at high speed……that we are not able anymore to bare with the idea that good things require time, much time to develop, to be perfected……..and so much more in spiritual life waiting with patience, toiling with patience is a basic “requirement”……….
    “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me and heard my cry…….”

    God bless and thanks for your time and effort,

    Sophia

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sophia! Waiting, I think, is a way of life for Christians, because we are always living our way towards the End. But that’s hard work as you point out. Take care and god bless 🙂

    2. Sophia,

      I have never faired well at waiting. Your comment that we wait so that good things can be perfected and this takes time to accomplish is a very wise explanation to some of us who just cannot handle waiting. Thank you, you have truly helped me.

  2. This is fascinating–thank you! I’ve always wondered at the abundance of feasts this time of year but never connected them with the themes of fruitfulness and anticipation this way.

    1. Hi Erika! I should say that this theme of fruitfulness and waiting is kind of my “interpretation” of this month… I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is some kind of canonical decree. Others may see these feasts through a different lens. But I do think it’s interesting that so many of the big feasts in September have to do with waiting and things/ people coming into being. I find it very encouraging and hope you do, too 🙂 Thanks and God bless. -Nicole

  3. This theme reminded me of one of your recent podcasts where you described the liturgy. I hope it was your podcast! perhaps the one where your dad attended and exclaimed he imagined that’s what heaven may be like. Anyway, there you went on to describe how just when we lose track during the liturgy we are prompted back to why we attended, by the cyclical “kyrie eleison” or doxology and have nodal points like the creed, our Father, the minor entrance and the great entrance; just when we’re in the haze of indifference we await for the jolt of reason. There’s a compatible theatre to the liturgy and the calandar year where the sequence of intensities and nuances carry us from distraction to the moment. It helps us live outside of the world; my 85 year old mother remembers events based around feasts dates, she’s old old old school, Greek (literally preindustria/rurall-the type that kept the Orthodox faith alive, immune to enslavement by Captors or modernity over 700 years). thanks again Nicole, “long time listener first time blogger”

    1. Daniel- Yes, that was my podcast 🙂 I like how you mention there are nodal points within the liturgy–and interesting way of putting it and thinking about it. Almost like hooks or disruptions. Which is kind of how kairos works through salvific history, too–junctures at which earthly, chronological time is interrupted and fused to the eternal. It’s nice to hear from you, take care and God bless. PS: your mother reminds me a lot of my mother-in-law. She lives right down the street from us, but in many ways we inhabit very different worlds. There were many things about her I didn’t understand until my husband and I visited her village in Greece with her, a tiny, austere little place barely clinging to the side of some steep, almost barren mountains in Greece. The lifestyle was so difficult and isolated there that it was a huge culture shock for me, yet that’s how many managed to maintain some semblance of peace and tradition for centuries of occupation. It’s something we often take for granted in modern Orthodoxy.

      1. Hi Nicole, your mentioning “kairo” was poignant. In Greek we take the term for granted, just earlier I was ending my ‘typico’ evening prayer in just that, a typical unheartfelt way, and at the end I usually ‘freestyle’ to accommodate particular people or situations in a supplication/entreatment to Panayia. Nevertheless, I was in a really ‘typico’ mood, going through the motions, thinking i dont have TIME I’ll do one just for so and so..that’s enough because I want to go upstairs and have a coffee with my wife, but then I really wanted to include another then another 2 after that, suddenly I decided to not think of process in a modular may that will take 4 times longer but its one TIME, ena KAIRO….it was not “typico”. Anyway Id like to hear that podcast on kairo again, which one was it?

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