“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…”
This prayer of St. Simeon, sung to close many services and when welcoming a newly baptized infant into the Church, is familiar for most Orthodox Christians. But listen again to them closely. Can you hear a two-part harmony, adding layers of beauty and meaning that often go unnoticed? For standing beside St. Simeon on that very day was a woman, St. Anna the Prophetess.
St. Luke tells us that on meeting Christ, St. Anna also “gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption at Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38). It is a great pity that, like the words of many women of that time, they were not recorded for us to sing and remember. But we have to imagine that they made an impression on the Theotokos, from whom Luke likely got this account - that just like St. Simeon, St. Anna received Christ as “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” It is likely that her joy and clarity in receiving Christ are also reflected in this hymn we sing so often.
St. Anna had spent decades in the Temple in fasting and prayer: a lifetime of preparing herself for this moment in which the whole of history would change. Having herself been raised in the temple, we can imagine that the Theotokos found a sense of kinship by her side, recognizing a woman who also “treasured up all these things in her heart.” Through her years of asceticism and prayer, St. Anna had become a woman of deep wisdom and insight. We see that she is called “The Prophetess,” for she spoke not just of Christ in her midst, but Christ’s coming redemption and kingdom.
St. Anna’s greatest witness to us is just this: that she spent her life cultivating a sensitivity of spirit. In a sense, this holy woman was neither ordinary nor extraordinary, but simply faithful to herself and her calling - and ultimately, to her God.
Who, after all, expected to see the Messiah appearing in the Temple as a 40-day old child? Yet when Christ did come, even as a small bundle in the arms of his mother, she was ready to welcome him as God.
We celebrate St. Anna today, February 3rd, on the new calendar.
Holy mother Anna, pray to God for us!
This icon was written by Kristina Saradzhyan.