THE REPROACH OF CHILDLESSNESS
“By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, / Joachim and Anna are freed from the reproach of childlessness (ὀνειδισμοῦ ἀτεκνίας); / Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. / And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: / The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!” (Kontakion-hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos)
As those of us on the “New” Calendar celebrate the great feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos this Saturday, our attention is drawn to the whole topic of the “reproach of childlessness,” endured for decades by the Holy Virgin’s parents, Joachim and Anna. They were liberated from this “shame,” just as we were freed from the “guilt” of sin, by the birth of the Birth-Giver of God, the “only” child from a marriage that endured even as it was “reproached.”
Many of us can relate, on some level, both to the “guilt” and the “reproach” (often from the voices inside our own heads) of being unproductive, or not productive enough, in the ways we or others might expect us to be. We don’t “do” enough; we don’t “make” enough (money, for example); we procrastinate, and neglect, and find ourselves failing to check off all the items on our “To Do” list, at the end of the day. Or perhaps we are single or divorced, and feel that we’ve failed to “produce” the family we “should” have. What to do, with the human “guilt” and constant “reproach” we might carry around, as a result of this state of affairs?
Two things: 1. Faith, and 2. Gratitude. We embrace faith in a God Who does produce new life from otherwise-“barren” and unexpected places, in His own time, – for example, from a Virgin-womb, and from a stone Tomb just outside Jerusalem. In reliance on Him, we can move forward, and do move forward, even if our growth is not noticeable, or fast enough, to our minds at the moment. And we can embrace gratitude for things as they are, at the moment, in the here and now, in the gentle realism that is humility, rather than stare into the gaping hole of our “should have done’s” and “must do’s,” in constant dissatisfaction. Because, as they say, Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, – that’s why it’s called a “present.” Give us “this day” our daily bread, I say to God today, and forgive us our debts, those “guilts” and “reproaches” we carry around, as we forgive our debtors. By the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour, save us!