Christian Saints Podcast

Saints Joachim and Anna

July 24, 2021 Darren C. Ong Season 1 Episode 40
Christian Saints Podcast
Saints Joachim and Anna
Show Notes Transcript

Saints Joachim and Anna are the parents of the Virgin Mary. They were an old couple that suffered shame and ridicule due to their barrenness, but God answers their prayers and grants them a baby in their old age, who becomes the mother of Jesus Christ. As the grandparents of Jesus Christ, Saint Joachim and Anna are commemorated in all Christian traditions that venerate saints, and their feast day is a day to celebrate all grandparents. 


 
 Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saints Joachim and Anna
 
 Joachim and Anna are the parents of the Virgin Mary. Their names do not appear in the Bible, but come to us through church tradition. Their story is given in the apocryphal text “The Infancy Gospel of James” also known as the protoevangelium of James. In this account Joachim and Anna are a wealthy old couple. They were generous with their wealth, but were in great distress because they were childless and barren, which was considered shameful. We will quote here from the infancy gospel of James. This translation comes from “The Complete Gospels -Annotated Scholars version” edited by Robert J Miller.
 
 According to the records of the twelve tribes of Israel, there once

was a very rich man named Joachim. 2He always doubled the gifts he

offered to the Lord, 3and would say to himself, "One gift, representing

my prosperity, will be for all the people; the other, offered for forgive

ness, will be my sin-offering to the Lord God."

4Now the great day of the Lord was approaching, and the people of

Israel were offering their gifts. 5And Reubel confronted Joachim and

said, "You're not allowed to offer your gifts first because you haven't

produced an Israelite child."

6And Joachim became very upset and went to the book of the twelve

tribes of the people, saying to himself, "I'm going to check the book of

the twelve tribes of Israel to see whether I'm the only one in Israel who

hasn't produced a child." 7 And he searched (the records) and found

that all the righteous people in Israel did indeed have children. BAnd

he remembered the patriarch Abraham because in his last days the

Lord God had given a son, Isaac.

9 And so he continued to be very upset and did not see his wife but

banished himself to the wilderness and pitched his tent there. lOAnd

Joachim fasted 'forty days and forty nights.' !lHe would say to himself,

"I will not go back for food or drink until the Lord my God visits me.

Prayer will be my food and drink."

The theme of a barren couple seeking desparately for a child is common in the old Testement. The passage mentions one famous story here, of Abraham and Sarah receiving their son Isaac at an old age. There is also another example, that of Hannah giving birth to Samuel. Interestingly, Saint Anna’s name is really just another version of the name Hannah, further strengthening the connection between the two women’s stories. The infancy gospel of James continues with Annah’s verison of the story. It parallels the story about Joachim above. Anna is mocked by one of her own servant girls about her barenness, and turns to God to prayer in her shame

nna, too, became very upset. She took off her mourning clothes,

washed her face, and put on her wedding dress. sThen, in the middle of

the afternoon, she went down to her garden to take a walk. She spied a

laurel tree and sat down under it. 9After resting, she prayed to the Lord:

"0 God of my ancestors, bless me and hear my prayer, just as you

blessed our mother Sarah and gave her a son, Isaac."

3

And Anna looked up toward the sky and saw a nest of sparrows in

the laurel tree. 2And immediately Anna began to lament, saying to

herself: "Poor me! Who gave birth to me? What sort of womb bore me?

3For 1 was born under a curse in the eyes of the people of Israel. And

I've been reviled and mocked and banished from the temple of the

Lord my God.

4"Poor me! What am 1 like? I am not like the birds of the sky,

because even the birds of the sky reproduce in your presence, 0 Lord.

s"Poor me! What am 1 like? 1 am not like the domestic animals,

because even the domestic animals bear young in your presence, 0

Lord.

6"Poor me! What am 1 like? I am not like the wild animals of the

earth, because even the animals of the earth reproduce in your pres­

ence, 0 Lord.

7"Poor me! What am 1 like? 1 am not like these waters, because even

these waters are productive in your presence, 0 Lord.

s"Poor me! What am I like? I am not like this earth, because even the

earth produces its crops in season and blesses you, 0 Lord."
 

The prayers of Joachim and Anna were answered, and an angel of the Lord comes and announces the miraculous birth to them. Anna then gives birth to the Virgin Mary. This event is celebrated in the Chrsitian Church as the Nativity of Mary, or the Nativity of the Theotokos, or Marymas, celebrated in both the Eastern and Western churches on September 8. We continue with this account from the Infancy Gospel of James:
 
 Suddenly a messenger of the Lord appeared to her and said:

"Anna, Anna, the Lord God has heard your prayer. You will conceive

and give birth, and your child will be talked about all over the world."

2And Anna said, "As the Lord God lives, whether 1 give birth to a

boy or a girl, I'll offer it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it will serve

him its whole life."

3And right then two messengers reported to her: "Look, your hus­

band Joachim is coming with his flocks." 4You see, a messenger of the

Lord had come down to Joachim and said, "Joachim, Joachim, theLord God has heard your prayer. Get down from there. Look, your

wife Anna is pregnant."

SAnd Joachim went down right away and summoned his shepherds

with these instructions: "Bring me ten lambs without spot or blemish,

and the ten lambs will be for the Lord God. 6Also, bring me twelve

tender calves, and the twelve calves will be for the priests and the

council of elders. 7Also, one hundred goats, and the one hundred goats

will be for the whole people."

SAnd so Joachim came with his flocks, while Anna stood at the gate.

9Then she spotted Joachim approaching with his flocks and rushed out

and threw her arms around his neck: "Now I know that the Lord God

has blessed me greatly. This widow is no longer a widow, and I, once

childless, am now pregnant!"

lOAnd Joachim rested the first day at home.
 
 But on the next day, as he was presenting his gifts, he thought to

himself, "If the Lord God has really been merciful to me, the polished

disc on the priest's headband will make it clear to me." 2And so

Joachim was presenting his gifts and paying attention to the priest's

headband until he went up to the altar of the Lord. And he saw no sin

in it. 3And Joachim said, "Now I know that the Lord God has been

merciful to me and has forgiven me all my sins." 4And he came down

from the temple of the Lord acquitted and went back home.

SAnd so her pregnancy came to term, and in the ninth month Anna

gave birth. 6And she said to the midwife, "Is it a boy or a girl?"

7And her midwife said, "A girl."

SAnd Anna said, "I have been greatly honored this day." Then the

midwife put the child to bed.

9When, however, the prescribed days were completed, Anna

cleansed herself of the flow of blood. lOAnd she offered her breast to the

infant and gave her the name Mary.



Let us read from the Eastern orthodox troparion and kontakion for the nativity of the theotokos, which talks about how this birth lifts the curse of barenness from Joachim and Anna. Prefiguring of course, how in giving birth to Christ Mary lifts the curse of death from all of humanity.
 
 Your Nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shone from You, O Theotokos! By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.



By Your Nativity, O 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!

The next important event in the life of Joachim and Anna is the presentation of Mary to the temple, where they fulfill their promise to God and dedicate her to the temple. Mary would live there until she is betrothed to Joseph. This event is celebrated as another great feast of the church, the presentation of Mary, which occurs in November 21. We continue with the account of this event from the infancy gospel of James:
 

 Day by day the infant grew stronger. 2When she was six months

old, her mother put her on the ground to see if she could stand. She

walked seven steps and went to her mother's arms. 3Then her mother

picked her up and said, "As the Lord my God lives, you will never walk

on this ground again until I take you into the temple of the Lord."

4And so she turned her bedroom into a sanctuary and did not permit

anything profane or unclean to pass the child's lips. 5She sent for the

undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they kept her amused.

6Now the child had her first birthday, and Joachim gave a great

banquet and invited the high priests, priests, scholars, council of

elders, and all the people of Israel. 7Joachim presented the child to the

priests, and they blessed her: "God of our fathers, bless this child and

give her a name which will be on the lips of future generations

forever."

BAnd everyone said, "So be it. Amen."

9He presented her to the high priests, and they blessed her: "Most

high God, look on this child and bless her with the ultimate blessing,

one which cannot be surpassed."

l0Her mother then took her up to the sanctuary-the bedroom­

and gave her breast to the child. llAnd Anna composed a song for the

Lord God: "I will sing a sacred song to the Lord my God because he

has visited me and taken away the disgrace attributed to me by my

enemies. 12The Lord my God has given me the fruit of his right­

eousness, single yet manifold before him. 13Who will announce to the

sons of Reubel that Anna has a child at her breast? 'Listen, listen, you

twelve tribes of Israel: Anna has a child at her breast!'"

14Anna made her rest in the bedroom-the sanctuary-and then

went out and began serving her guests. 15When the banquet was over,

they left in good spirits and praised the God of Israel
 
 Many months passed, but when the child reached two years of age,

Joachim said, "Let's take her up to the temple of the Lord, so that we

can keep the promise we made, or else the Lord will be angry with us

and our gift will be unacceptable."

2And Anna said, "Let's wait until she is three, so she won't miss her

father or mother."

3And Joachim agreed: "Let's wait."

4When the child turned three years of age, Joachim said, "Let's send

for the undefiled Hebrew daughters. 5Let them each take a lamp and

light it, so the child won't turn back and have her heart captivated by

things outside the Lord's temple." 6And this is what they did until the

time they ascended to the Lord's temple.
 
 7The priest welcomed her, kissed her, and blessed her: "The Lord

God has exalted your name among all generations. BIn you the Lord

will disclose his redemption to the people of Israel during the last

days."

9And he sat her down on the third step of the altar, and the Lord

showered favor on her. lOAnd she danced, and the whole house of

Israel loved her.Her parents left for home marveling and praising and glorifying

the Lord God because the child did not look back at them. 2And Mary

lived in the temple of the Lord
 
This is the last we hear of Joachim and Anna, as they were old and would pass soon after. But they are both celebrated saints in the Christian church today, especially for barren couples seekig children. This year 2021. As grandparents of Jesus Christ, they are also considered to be patron saints of grandparents. Pope Francis announced a new World day for Grandparents and the Elderly, the celebration happening in the fourth Sunday of July, which coincides with Joachim and Anna’s feast day in 2021. Pope Francis tied the struggles of the elderly with the shame and struggle faced by Joachim and Anna in this homily announcing the new celebration, in January 2021




 I am well aware that this Message comes to you at a difficult time: the pandemic swept down on us like an unexpected and furious storm; it has been a time of trial for everyone, but especially for us elderly persons. Many of us fell ill, others died or experienced the death of spouses or loved ones, while others found themselves isolated and alone for long periods. 

The Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time. He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic. Tradition has it that Saint Joachim, the grandfather of Jesus, felt estranged from those around him because he had no children; his life, like that of his wife Anne, was considered useless. So the Lord sent an angel to console him. While he mused sadly outside the city gates, a messenger from the Lord appeared to him and said, “Joachim, Joachim! The Lord has heard your insistent prayer”.[1] Giotto, in one of his celebrated frescoes,[2] seems to set the scene at night, one of those many sleepless nights, filled with memories, worries and longings to which many of us have come to be accustomed.
 Even at the darkest moments, as in these months of pandemic, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us: “I am with you always”. He says this to you, and he says it to me. That is the meaning of this Day, which I wanted to celebrate for the first time in this particular year, as a long period of isolation ends and social life slowly resumes. May every grandfather, every grandmother, every older person, especially those among us who are most alone, receive the visit of an angel! 
 
I will quote here also from a wonderful Sermon by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, about Saint Joachim and Anna. 
 
 The tradition of the Church tells the story of the great faithfulness and love of Joachim and Anna.  In many ways, they were considered blessed: for by God’s mercy and providence, they had material abundance; and from their abundance they offered one third of their material blessing to the work of the Temple and its priests; one third to the needs of the poor; and they cared for themselves with the remaining third.  One might say that they had everything – except the joy of children.

Thus on that fateful day it was not unusual for Joachim to approach the Temple with generous gifts and offerings – he always gave to the work of God, and he always prayed for the blessing of a child; what was different on that day was that he was turned away.   An unthinking person in authority challenged him: How can a childless man be deemed worthy to come before God?  In typical male fashion, confused and ashamed, Joachim goes off to be alone (in his “man-cave”) in the wilderness; there to nurse his soul’s wounds, but even more, to pour out his heart before God.

His faithful wife Anne fears the worst for her absent husband.  Unaware of what happened, she too goes into mourning as a childless widow.  And from her heart, shattered with pain, escapes a prayer that reaches the heavens: “O God of our fathers, bless me.”

Yes, my friends, we know these people, don’t we?  We know this family: they are us.  For, beloved, what family among us is untouched by hurt, by loss, by weakness, by strife, … by shame?  Which of our families is not affected by some condition that breaks our hearts and challenges our hope, whether because of unemployment or underemployment or financial stress or medical issues or legal troubles?  What family has not been tested by the presence of moral failure and loss of hope?  When we see the family of Joachim and Anna, we see people just like ourselves, just like everyone else.  We see people who ache for a sense of God’s presence, a sense of God’s purpose in their life.  And just as both were in deep despair, God sent his angel to tell them of His mercy and love, and that after waiting with faith and hope, their prayers would be blessed:  they would have a child.

Is it any wonder, then, that in popular piety, the early Church at times could begin the Good News with these two people—at once so obscure and yet so familiar?

That the greatest story of human history starts with such an ordinary family—this brings hope that God can make wonderful things happen even through us—despite our limitations, despite our frailty, despite our basic human nature in all its broken beauty.

And a wonderful thing did happen for Joachim and Anna, a wonderful thing for all humanity.  A child was born, a little girl.  They gave her a name from the history of God’s mercy on His people, the name of the sister of Moses—Miriam.  Today, when we call her blessed, we address her as Mary.  And we call her blessed, because she gave birth to the Savior, to Jesus Christ – to God in the flesh.



 Thanks for listening to this episode of the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/

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Let us end this episode with the Roman Catholic collect for the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anna:
 
 O Lord, God of our Fathers, who bestowed on Saints Joachim and Anne this grace, that of them should be born the Mother of your incarnate Son, grant, through the prayers of both, that we may attain the salvation you have promised to your people. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.