In a rapidly changing world, how do you face the uncertainties of tomorrow? Scientific and technological developments have impacted all aspects of life. Adjusting to these changes is essential for survival. What choices must we make as we adjust, and how will they impact the fundamental unit of society, the family?
Our attention is drawn to an important role for the healthy survival of the human race, that of parenting. No doubt, the styles of parenting have evolved and changed over time affecting the development of the child, both positively and negatively.
It is important that we, as the people of God, seek guidance from our ancestors in faith to do the kind of parenting which enables young parents to raise children of God.
We remember Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Holy Mother of God Mary, immediately following the nine-day cycle of the Feast of Assumption. The church remembers Joachim and Anna as a righteous couple who led a pure and pious life. In biblical understanding, righteousness describes a person who lives a God-pleasing life according to the Commandments. Joachim and Anna were held in high esteem before God and people. They were devoted to prayer, fasting, participated in temple life, and practiced charity. The fruit of their labors they shared threefold, offering it to the temple, to the needy, and used the remainder for their own family needs.
Joachim and Anna were childless, a source of great pain and suffering. In Israelite society, childlessness was regarded as a curse from God. On the feast of the temple, Joachim joined many other Israelites to offer gifts to God. The priests did not accept his gifts because he had no children. What a painful rejection by people who could not penetrate the heart of God!
This strengthened their bond with God even more. Both Joachim and Anna prayed fervently, trusting in God’s providence. They vowed that if blessed with a child, be it a male or female, they would dedicate the child to God’s service. When their daughter was born they thanked God and rejoiced with their community, naming her Mary.
The parents cared and nurtured the child Mary. For the first three years of her life, she experienced the love and devotion which her parents had towards God and joined them in their faith community, the temple worship. When she was weaned at the age of three the parents prepared to take her to the temple. The loving father Joachim hesitated but Anna insisted that they fulfill their vow. The high priest Zachariah blessed her and received her into the temple for the service of God.
Joachim and Anna have much to teach us, twenty-first-century parents. One might say that life circumstances were different then, and our challenges are more daunting. The guiding principles of their life as a Godly couple are the same and valid for all times. Joachim and Anna were descendants of God-loving ancestors. Their spiritual development was influenced by their own parents and grandparents. Our ancestors valued the familial background of the future bride or groom since the family they formed would reflect the values and faith of the extended family. It was in this environment that they would raise their own children. Such was the case with Joachim and Anna.
The Church affirms this through the processional hymn for the Feasts of the Presentation and Conception of the Holy Mother of God.
In providential wisdom you established the mystery of the holy church, laying its foundations deep on the assembly of the righteous; through their prayers have mercy on us.
This day the promise made to Abraham, our spiritual father, manifests in Anna with the joining of the priestly and kingly scepter; through their prayers have mercy on us.
Joachim was a descendant of King David from the town of Nazareth, and Anna came from the tribe of Levi, daughter of a priest in Bethlehem. It is quite obvious from the account of their life that both were very serious about their faith and its practice. They were well versed in the Law of God and practiced it. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were a natural part of their family life. It is in this environment that the young Mary grew and absorbed the pious atmosphere of her family. Children have an innate sense of the divine and that innocent awareness must be safeguarded and nurtured. We know that children learn and value what they see their parents doing. If the parents regularly practice acts of piety and help their children do the same then that becomes like the bread and butter which they eat, a necessity for life. Joachim and Anna were also vigilant about participating in the life of the faith community by observing the liturgical and festal cycles of Israel. Such observances give a special meaning to life, above and beyond the mundane routines in which we engage.
Looking at our twenty-first-century circumstances, perhaps many would argue that it is too difficult to take on such a lifestyle reflective of our Christian faith due to the constraints of time. The truth of the matter is that we can bless every moment of our day and all the activities we engage in by making ourselves aware of the presence of God. Once practiced, it becomes like second nature. My parents taught me to bless myself with the sign of the cross every time I left the house or drove a car. I, in turn, would sign the forehead of my children with the sign of the cross since their infancy. They know that walking with God every moment of the day is essential and that we can remind ourselves with various practices.
We have to honestly admit that the secular influences surrounding us have made it difficult for many parents to make decisions and choices for their children that would promote a God-centered life. Remember that Joachim and Anna had to make choices too. It is the responsibility of the church today to make every effort to nurture the spiritual life of adults, particularly the young who will become parents.
• Engage them frequently in community events which are of a spiritual and educational nature.
• Teach them that practicing charitable acts is not limited to once or twice a year for Christmas and Easter, rather it should be part of their regular practice.
• To be Christ-like we must practice the love and care which he showed towards all without judgment or discrimination.
• Encourage them not to succumb to Sunday morning sports practices or cultural activities imposed by secular groups. Protect your sacred time to worship together as a family on Sunday mornings. How nice it would be if the church facilitated the inclusion of children in worship!
Let us ask for the incessant prayers of the model parents Saints Joachim and Anna.
Yeretzgin Sirarpi Aivazian
July 26, 2019