Genealogy buffs know the importance of family. They spend many hours using all the resources now available to trace lineages – from father to son, mother to daughter through generation after generation.
The Church also celebrates family heritage. Holy Scripture gives many genealogies (such as 1 Chronicles 1:28, 29: “The sons of Abraham: Isaac and Ishmael. These are their genealogies: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebaoth;…”). In particular, the ancestry of our Lord Jesus Christ is given in Scripture (Matthew 1:1ff), showing how the circumstances of his birth and family relationships fulfill the ancient prophecies regarding the Messiah (such as Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” and Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha…from you shall come forth for us who is to be ruler in Israel”).
Ss. Joachim and Anna, the penultimate link in this genealogical chain, were of utmost importance in the unfolding of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
According to the Tradition of the Church, St. Joachim was of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of King David (thus fulfilling the prophecy for the Messiah to come from that lineage). St. Anna was the daughter of a priest of the tribe of Levi. Of her two sisters, Zoia became the mother of St. Elizabeth, who bore St. John the Baptist, the great herald of our Lord.
Joachim and Anna lived devout lives in Nazareth, faithfully following the precepts of the Law. Their only sorrow was in the fact that they remained childless as they grew older. In a society where children were regarded as the sign of God’s favor, their infertility became a source of shame and ridicule. When his offering at the Temple was rejected as unworthy, Joachim decided to go into the desert to fast and pray more fervently for God to grant them a child. At home, Anna also made her plea to God, recalling his mercy toward Abraham and Sarah.
The Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of the two separately, assuring them that their prayers had been heard in Heaven. The icon of Ss. Joachim and Anna depicts the reunion of this happy couple as they embrace before conceiving Mary.
Although the New Testament does not reveal details of the childhood of Mary, we know from other writings (primarily the Protevangelium of James) that her holy parents presented her at the Temple at an early age and that she was taught there and brought up as a devout lover of God. Most importantly, we know that Ss. Joachim and Anna fulfilled their parental responsibilities well because of Mary’s ready acceptance of God’s will for her to become the bearer of the Lord (“Be it unto me according to thy word”).
It is said that St. Joachim died when his daughter was 12 years old but that St. Anna lived to see God’s plan for their family lineage completed, to hold her grandson and her Savior. St. Anna and St. Joachim are honored by the Church on July 26. (They are celebrated on September 9 in the Byzantine calendar.)
While we rejoice in this great emphasis on family heritage, we must also remember St. Paul’s teaching that all of us who are baptized have been adopted as sons of God [Galatians 4:4-5; Romans 8:14]. Our true family is the family of God, the Church. We are related to all who call upon God as Father.
We give thanks to God for Ss. Joachim and Anna, the earthly grandparents of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we celebrate our adoption as children of God and joint-heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17].