Sunday, June 17, 2012


Some years back two of my fellow Capuchins and I made a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the heart of Orthodoxy. We visited the monasteries of Xenophontos, Gregoriou, Dionysiou, Paulou, and the skette of Ayia Anna. It is a place to which we would like to return one day. While there and in Thessaloniki I collected as many prints of icons as I could and among my collection there are packs of postcards featuring icons. This is the birth of the Virgin. The virgin appears as a baby in the bottom left as she is prepared for her bath and in her crib at the feet of her mother, St. Anne. At the bottom right a young girl is weaving. St. Anne is the chief character of this icon robed in red and contemplating the extraordinary events that have accompanied the birth of her daughter. Behind her she embrace Joachim her husband ad reference to the conception of the Virgin. To the upper left Joachim is in prayer while at the top right the angel comes to tell him of God's favourable answer. Facing St. Anne the ladies approach with spools of thread and food near a table with seems set for a meal. The spool like the distaff in the hands of the girl at the lower right is a symbol of Anne's having 'woven' the flesh of Mary in her womb (Ps. 139). This icon celebrates the faith and courage of those who prepared the way for our Saviour. These are the grandparents of Christ and their struggles made the conception and birth of the Virgin possible which in turn led to the Incarnation of the Word. Christ was not born in vacuum but into the history of a family and a people, into the history of the world. God does not stand aloof. You will always find Him in the lowest place.

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