The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated by Orthodox Christians on Dec. 8 in the Western Rite, and on Dec. 9 in the Eastern Rite. We thank God for the day when Mary began her life on earth.
For most Orthodox feasts and saint days, we have special icons which depict the saints being commemorated. But in this case, Mary is nowhere to be found on the festal icon.
That is because Mary, just like every other person in history (except Adam and Eve), began her life as a fertilized egg, as a zygote. On the day she was conceived, she was too small to see. She was alive, fully human, and still hidden in Anna’s womb.
Celebrating Mary’s conception teaches us some important lessons:
Lesson #1 – The Marriage Bed is Holy
The icon for this feast shows saints Joachim and Anna near their bed, preparing to conceive the Blessed Virgin Mary. These saints had sex with each other, and there is no hint of shame. It was a pure, holy, and blessed event.
Lesson #2 – Life Begins at Conception
The icon for this feast shows saints Joachim and Anna near their bed, preparing to conceive the Virgin Mary. Mary was a person the day she was conceived. As a zygote, she was already fully human.
Lesson #3 – A Holy Marriage Bed is Always Open to Conception
The icon for this feast shows saints Joachim and Anna near their bed, preparing to conceive. They were not merely seeking pleasure in the bedroom. They approached their marriage bed honorably–with an openness to life–just as they had done throughout their entire marriage.
Their openness to life was not restricted to times when conception was considered medically possible. When they conceived Mary, they were already in old age, well past normal childbearing years. Saints Joachim and Anna knew that God has ultimate control over the womb. He is the one who creates life. Thus, even if marriage partners are considered infertile, their physical union is still holy. At any time, God may bless such a couple with the gift of a child, created in His image.
Troparion, Tone 5:
Let us sing praises to Joachim and Anna,
the couple honored by God
(and they are His kinsmen).
They have borne for us the Maiden
who in a manner beyond understanding
gave birth to Him Who though fleshless,
became the incarnate to save the world.
With her they intercede for our souls.
Kontakion, Tone 2:
Anna rejoices, released from her barrenness,
and nurses her most pure child.
She calls all people to glorify Him
Who gave the Virgin Mother to mankind from her womb.