Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Synaxis of Ss Joachim and Anne

In the Byzantine Rite, the term “synaxis” (“σύναξις” in Greek, “собóръ – sobor” in Church Slavonic) refers to a special kind of commemoration held the day after a major feast. This commemoration honors a sacred person who figures prominently in the feast, but who is, so to speak, overshadowed by its principal subject. The most prominent example is the feast of the Holy Spirit, which is kept on the Monday after Pentecost, since Pentecost itself is the feast of the Holy Trinity. (Incidentally, the Byzantine All Saints’ Day is the following Sunday.) Likewise, the Synaxis of the Virgin Mary is kept the day after Christmas, that of St John the Baptist on January 7th, the day after the Baptism of the Lord, and that of St Gabriel the day after the Annunciation. These are not the principal feasts of the persons honored by these “synaxes”, and one also finds on the Byzantine liturgical calendar the other major feasts of the Virgin (Conception, Nativity, Assumption etc.) feasts of St John on Sept. 23 (his conception), June 24 and August 29, and that of St Gabriel on June 11.

Such a synaxis is kept on September 9 to honor both of the Virgin Mary’s parents on the day after Her birth; however, in the specific case of St Joachim, this is also his principal feast. In the Tridentine period, this custom was borrowed by the Ambrosian Rite, which keeps him (by himself) on this day as well. There is no other mention of him on the Byzantine calendar, whereas “the Dormition of St Anne, mother of the Mother of God” is kept as a separate feast on July 25th, the day before its traditional Western date.

An 18th-century icon of Ss Joachim and Anne with the Virgin Mary, from the monastery of the Pantocrator on Mt Athos.
Troparion : Ἡ Δυὰς ἡ ἁγία καὶ Θεοτίμητος, Ἰωακεὶμ καὶ ἡ Ἄννα, ὡς τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀγχιστεῖς, ἀνυμνείσθωσαν φαιδρῶς ᾀσμάτων κάλλεσιν· οὗτοι γὰρ ἔτεκον ἡμιν τὴν τεκοῦσαν ὑπὲρ νοῦν τὸν ἄσαρκον βροτωθέντα, εἰς σωτηρίαν τοῦ κόσμου, μεθ’ ἧς πρεσβεύουσι σωθῆναι ἡμᾶς.

Let the holy couple, honored by God, Joachim and Anna, as the kin of God, be celebrated with good cheer and beautiful songs; for they bore to us Her who, beyond our understanding, gave birth to One without flesh, but made mortal for the salvation of the world; and with Her they pray that we may be saved.

On September 9th, the Byzantines also commemorate the “Fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus”, who, led by St Cyril of Alexandria, defended and defined the Virgin Mary’s title “Mother of God.” One might imagine this commemoration would be fixed rather to the Annunciation, the day on which She became the Mother of God, to Her synaxis on December 26th, or to a date in June or July, when the Council itself was actually held in the year 431. It is fixed to September 9th because the liturgical New Year of the Byzantine Rite is on September 1st, and therefore, the Nativity of the Virgin is the first Marian feast of the year.

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