Mala Gospojina – birth of the Most Holy Mother of God

The origin of the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is apocryphal in nature – the Proto-Gospel of Jacob (Chapter 5), a document from the 2nd century. The Church of Constantinople already accepted the Birth of the Mother of God in the 6th century, while Rome did so at the end of the 7th century.
(Birth of the Virgin, fresco, 14th century, Studenica, Serbia)

The significance of the Mother of God and her cult is extremely great in the Orthodox world, and she is the most respected after Christ. Its place in the liturgy can already be clearly seen on the church iconostasis, where it has been shown several times, primarily during the Great Feasts. In fact, the order of holidays begins with the Birth of the Most Holy Mother of God, because it is the first holiday (September 8) of the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church. equinoxes.

Birth of the Mother of God, icon, 15th century, Novgorod, Russia

The Apocryphal Proto-Gospel of James

The origin of the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is apocryphal in nature – the Proto-Gospel of Jacob (Chapter 5), a document from the 2nd century. The Church of Constantinople already accepted the Birth of the Mother of God in the 6th century, while Rome did so at the end of the 7th century, during the reign of Pope Sergei I (687-701).

The apocryphal description of the Birth of the Mother of God is quite similar to the cycles of Dionysius, Mithras, Alexander, etc., where we regularly find the birth and bathing of a child, and his upbringing and education. According to the Apocrypha, St. Anne and St. Joachim the priest, the parents of the Virgin Mary, had no children, and as infertility was shameful among the Jews, Zechariah, the priest and father of St. John the Baptist, rejected Joachim’s sacrifice, which almost represented persecution from the community. The couple then prayed to God to give them a child and thus remove the shame from the family. The Lord answered their request and sent an angel to announce the birth of a girl who would give birth to the Messiah. Nine months later, Anna gave birth to the Mother of God.

The symbolism of the story begins with the names of Mary’s parents. The name Anna comes from the Hebrew “Yahweh is merciful” and then “mercy,” while Joachim comes from the Hebrew phrase “Yahweh exalts”. The Apocrypha also speaks of the origin of Joachim, which comes from the line of David, which is very important, apologetically speaking, because the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 11: 1-5), and later the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 1: 1-17) speak about it. . The third point is Ana’s miraculous conception, an element based on several biblical episodes: Sarah (Gen. 11:30), Rebekah (Gen. 25:21), Rachel (Gen. 30: 1), Samuel’s mother Anna. 1 Sam. 1:20) and Elizabeth (Luke 1: 7).

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Birth of the Mother of God, icon, 16th century, Šišatovac, Serbia

Jewish customs and Byzantine tradition

The iconographic motif of the Birth of the Most Holy Mother of God gained its true significance in Byzantium after the iconoclastic years, around 9/10. century. We find it on a mosaic from the 11th century in Daphne and on a fresco from the same period in the church of St. Sophia in Kiev. The composition depicts St. Anne lying, initially on a rug according to Jewish custom, and later on a bed according to Byzantine tradition. Beginning in the 12th century, she sits, which illustrates the Christian dogma of painless childbirth and complete purity. This is not in contradiction with the lying position, because it signifies a true bodily birth, and not some symbolic act.

Until the 14th century, Joachim was not shown in the composition and we see him, for the first time, on a fresco painted around 1314 in the King’s Church of the Studenica Monastery, and then on a 14th century mosaic in the Constantinople Church of Christ the Savior in Polje.

Next to St. Anne’s bed there are usually three women, maids or friends who brought gifts. They are reminiscent of the usual Byzantine courtesy of giving gifts to the Empress, but also of the myth of the Parks, the mistresses of human lives whose threads are spun. Women hold offers in their hands or place them on a table next to the headboard. The table at the Birth of the Mother of God was shown for the first time in the Church of Christ the Savior in Polje (1310) and was empty. An empty table was also shown at the birth of Saint Nicholas on a fresco of the Serbian church of the Mother of God Ljeviska in Prizren, which dates back to around 1310. Two decades later, on a fresco of the Prizren church dedicated to St. Nicholas, which is shown covered with gifts.

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Birth of the Virgin, icon, 17th century, Northern Greece (left); icon, 18th century, Russia (right)

In the lower part of the composition, you can see the midwife-maid who bathes the Virgin Mary, which belongs to the roots in ancient art. The background of the scene is occupied by a house, often depicted as a palace, symbolizing the place of birth. According to Epiphanius the Monk (+ 403), the place is Nazareth, Joachim’s hometown; according to St. John Chrysostom (347-407) it is Bethlehem, the hometown of King David, St. Anne and Christ; according to Sophronius (+644) it happened in Jerusalem. All these cities have an apologetic meaning, because they are proof that Christ is really the Messiah described in the Old Testament prophecies. In iconography, the architecture of the house mostly followed the inclinations of the time, changing stylistic elements and size.

Sometimes the composition of the Birth of the Most Holy Mother of God is enriched with details such as Joachim’s prayer, the angel announces the birth of the Mother of God, the conception of the Mother of God, Joachim and Anna with a child, etc. The compositions containing these scenes date mainly from 15/16. century or later, coming from the iconography of the schools of Central Russia.


Source: Balkan Magazin – Aktuelnosti by www.balkanmagazin.net.

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