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Saint Joachim, Father of the Blessed Virgin Mary

It is most fitting that August 16th, the first day of the Octave of the Assumption, is the day chosen to celebrate the Feast of the Father of our Illustrious Lady the ever blessed Virgin Mother of God.

 
What follows is a series of readings from the hour of Matins in the Divine Office for the Feast of Saint Joachim, and following that a selection from the visions of one of the church’s greatest mystics that concerns Saint Joachim.
 
 
From the Sermons of Saint Epiphanius, Bishop of Pavia
 
From the Root of Jesse sprang King David, and from the stock of King David, the Holy Virgin. Holy I call her, and the daughter of holy men. Her father and mother were Joachim and Anne, who pleased God in their lives, and brought forth an offspring well pleasing to Him, even the Holy Virgin Mary, at once the Temple and the Mother of God. These three, Joachim, Anne, and Mary, clearly offered up unto the Trinity a sacrifice of praise. For the name Joachim being interpreted, signifieth “the preparation of the Lord”, and out of him was prepared the Temple of the Lord, namely, the Virgin. The name Anne signifieth grace, and she and Joachim did indeed receive a grace when, in answer to their prayers, they generated such an offspring, compassing the Holy Virgin. Joachim prayed upon the mountain and Anne in her garden.
 
 
From the Sermons of Saint John of Damascus – 1st on the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
 
Since it was to be that the Virgin Mother of God should be born of Anne, nature dared not to produce any other child before this child of grace, but humbly waited until grace should have produced her’s. It behoved that she should come into the world as a first-born, who was to bear the First-born of every creature, even Him by Whom all things were made. O blessed couple, Joachim and Anne unto you is all creation laid under debt, since through you creation hath offered to the Creator this noblest of gifts, namely, that chaste mother, who alone was worthy of the Creator.
 
Rejoice, O Joachim, from whose daughter a Child hath unto us been born, and His name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel, that is, of the salvation of the whole world. Let Nestorius be ashamed, and put his hand upon his mouth. Her Child is God. How then can His Mother be other than Mother of God? Whosoever acknowledgeth not the Holy Mother of God is far from God. This saying is not mine, although it is mine in all other senses than that of authority. I have received it as a most godly legacy from Father Gregory the Divine. O blessed couple, Joachim and Anne. Christ saith in a certain place By their fruits ye shall know them Matth. iii. 20 and ye are known by the fruit of your chaste loins. That that which should be born of you might be worthy and wellpleasing in the sight of God, ye ordered your own lives by rule. In the chaste and holy exercise of your natural gift, ye produced the treasure of virginity.
 
 
From the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 1:1-16
 
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob. And so on…(more)
 
Homily by Saint John of Damascus – Book IV on the Orthodox Faith
 
That Joseph sprang from the lineage of David, the most holy Evangelists Matthew and Luke have clearly shown. There is this difference between them, that Matthew traceth the pedigree from David through Solomon, and Luke through Nathan. But both of them pass in silence over the descent of the Holy Virgin. In explanation of this we shall find on investigation that among the Jews, and in the Holy Scriptures, it hath never been in use to chronicle the pedigrees of women. But the Law containeth a warning against the tribes intermarrying one with another. Joseph was of the same tribe as David, namely, Judah, and since he was a just man (this is the praise which the Gospel of God giveth him,) he would not have espoused the Holy Virgin, unless she had been of the same race, as such an union would not have been in accordance with the commandment of the law. For this reason the Evangelist held it enough to have shown the descent of Joseph.
 
Therefore, from the stock of Nathan the son of David, Levi begat Melchi and Panther and Panther begat Bar-Panther (for so was he called) and Bar-Panther begat Joachim and Joachim begat the Holy Mother of God. Again, from the stock of Solomon the son of David, Mathan of his wife begat Jacob. And after Mathan was dead, Melchi, of the family of Nathan, son to Levi and brother to Panther, took to him in marriage her that had been the wife of Mathan, and was mother of Jacob, and begat of her Heli. So that Jacob and Heli were half-brothers, sons of the same mother, but one of the stock of Solomon and the other of the stock of Nathan.
 
Then Heli, who was the descendant of Nathan, died, having had no children. Whereupon, Jacob, who was the descendant of Solomon, took to himself the widow of his halfbrother Heli, to raise up seed unto his brother, and begat of her Joseph. So Joseph was by nature the son of Jacob the descendant of Solomon, but in the eye of the Law he had for his father Heli the descendant of Nathan. Things being thus, Joachim took to wife that most eminent and praiseworthy woman, Anne. And even as the patient Hannah, being stricken with barrenness, by prayer and promise became the mother of Samuel, so likewise this woman also through prayer and promise received from God the Mother of God, that in fruitfulness she might not be behind any of the famous matrons. And thus grace (for such is the signification of the name of Anne) is mother of the Lady (for such is the signification of the name of Mary. ) And indeed she became the Lady of every creature, since she hath been mother of the Creator.
 
 
 
 
Joachim is Spurned at the Temple and Goes to Stay with his Flocks
 
After having besought God’s blessing on their marriage for so many years in vain, I saw that Joachim was minded to offer another sacrifice at the Temple. He and Anna prepared themselves for this by penitential devotions. I saw them lying on the hard earth in prayer during the night, girt in penitential garments; after which Joachim went at sunrise across the country to where his herds were pasturing, while Anna remained at home by herself. Soon after this I saw Anna sending him doves, other birds and many different things in cages and baskets. They were all taken to him by menservants to be offered up in the Temple. He took two donkeys from the pasture, and loaded them with these baskets and with others into which he put, I think, three very lively little white creatures with long necks. I cannot remember whether they were lambs or kids. He had with him a staff with a light on the top of it, which looked as if it were shining inside a hollow gourd. I saw him arriving with his menservants and beasts of burden at a beautiful green field between Bethany and Jerusalem, a place where later I often saw Jesus stay. They journeyed on to the Temple, and stabled the donkeys at the same Temple inn, near the cattle market, where Joachim and Anna afterwards lodged at Mary’s Presentation. They then took the sacrificial offerings up the steps, and passed through the dwellings of the Temple servants as before. Here Joachim’s servants went back after handing over the offerings.
 
Joachim himself entered the hall, where stood the basin of water in which all the sacrifices were washed. He then went through a long passage into a hall on the left of the place in which were the altar of incense, the table of the shewbreads and the seven-branched candlestick. There were several others assembled there to make sacrifices, and it was here that Joachim had to bear his hardest trial. I saw that one of the priests, Reuben by name, disdained his offerings, and did not put them with the others on the right-hand of the hall, where they could be seen behind the bars, but thrust them on one side. He reproached the unfortunate Joachim loudly and before the others for his unfruitfulness, refused to admit him and sent him, in disgrace, to an alcove enclosed with gratings.
 
I saw that upon this Joachim left the Temple in the greatest distress and betook himself to an assembly house of the Essenes near Machaerus, passing Bethany on the way. Here he sought counsel and consolation. (In this same house, and earlier in a similar one near Bethlehem, lived the prophet Manahem, who prophesied to the young Herod about his kingdom and his crimes.) From here Joachim betook himself to his most distant herds on Mount Hermon. His way led him across the Jordan through the desert of Gaddi. Mount Hermon is a long narrow mountain, beautifully green and rich with fruit trees on the sunny side, but covered with snow on the other.
 
 
Joachim is Comforted by an Angel and Returns again to the Temple to Sacrifice
 
At the same time I saw Joachim among his flocks on Mount Hermon beyond the Jordan constantly praying God to grant his supplications. As he watched the young lambs bleating and frolicking round their mothers, he felt sorely distressed at having no children, but did not tell his shepherds why he was so sad. It was near the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, and he and his shepherds were beginning to put up the tabernacles. Remembering his humiliation at the Temple, he had abandoned the idea of going tip as usual to Jerusalem for the feast and offering sacrifices, but as he was praying I saw an angel appear to him, telling him to be of good courage and to journey to the Temple, for his sacrifice would be accepted and his prayers granted. He would meet his wife under the Golden Gate. Thereupon I saw Joachim joyfully dividing his flocks and herds once more into three portions–and what numbers of fine beasts he had! The least good he kept for himself, the next best he sent to the Essenes, and the best of all he drove to the Temple with his herdsmen. He arrived in Jerusalem on the fourth day of the feast, and stayed in his usual lodgings near the Temple.
 
Anna arrived in Jerusalem also on the fourth day of the feast and stayed with Zechariah’s relations by the fish market. She did not meet Joachim until the end of the feast.
 
Although on the previous occasion it was by a sign from above that Joachim’s offerings were rejected, I saw that the priest who had treated him so harshly instead of comforting and consoling him was in some way (I cannot remember how) punished by God. Now, however, the priests had received a divine warning to accept his offerings, and I saw that some of them, on being told of his approach with the sacrificial beasts, went out of the Temple to meet him and accepted his gifts. The cattle which he had brought as a gift to the Temple were not his actual offering. The sacrifice he brought to be slaughtered consisted of two lambs and three lively little animals, kids, I think. I saw, too, that many of his acquaintances congratulated him on his sacrifice being accepted. I saw that because of the feast the whole Temple was open and decorated with garlands of fruit and greenery, and that in one place a Tabernacle had been set up on eight detached pillars. Joachim went from place to place in the Temple exactly as he did before. His sacrifice was slaughtered and burnt at the usual place. Some part of it was, however, burnt at another place, to the right, I think, of the entrance hall with the great teaching pulpit.  I saw the priests making a sacrifice of incense in the Holy Place. Lamps, too, were lighted and lights burned on the seven-branched candlestick, but not on all seven branches at once. I often saw that on different occasions different branches of it were lighted. As the smoke arose from the offering, I saw as it were a beam of light falling upon the officiating priest in the Holy Place and at the same time on Joachim without in the hall. There came a sudden pause in what was going on, it seemed from astonishment and the realization of something supernatural. Thereupon I saw that two priests went out into the hall to Joachim as though by God’s command, and led him through the side rooms up to the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place. The priest then laid something on the altar. This was not, I could see, separate grains of incense; it looked like a solid lump, but I cannot remember what it was. This lump gave out a powerful and sweet smell of incense as it was burnt upon the altar of incense before the veil of the Holy of Holies. Then I saw the priest going away, leaving Joachim alone in the Holy Place. While the incense-offering was being consumed I saw Joachim in a state of ecstasy, kneeling with outstretched arms. I saw approaching him a shining figure of an angel, such as later appeared to Zechariah when he received the promise of the Baptist’s birth. The angel spoke to Joachim, and gave him a scroll on which I recognized, written in shining letters, the three names Helia, Hanna, Miriam. Beside the last of these names I saw the picture of a little Ark of the Covenant or tabernacle. Joachim fastened this scroll to his breast under his garment. The angel told him that his unfruitfulness was no disgrace for him, but on the contrary, an honor, for the child his wife was to conceive was to be the immaculate fruit of God’s blessing upon him and the crowning point of the blessing of Abraham. Joachim, being unable to grasp this, was led by the angel behind the veil hanging in front of the Holy of Holies. Between this veil and the bars of the screen before the Holy of Holies was a space large enough to stand in. I saw the angel approach the Ark of the Covenant, and it seemed to me as if he took something out of it, for I saw him hold towards Joachim a shining globe or circle of light, bidding him breathe upon it and look into it. (When he held the circle of light so near his face, it made me think of a custom at our country weddings where the sacristan gives one a little board to kiss with a head painted on it, and makes one pay three halfpence for doing so.) Then I saw as if all kinds of pictures appeared in the circle of light when Joachim breathed on it and that these were visible to him. His breath had in no way dimmed the circle of light, and the angel told him that the conception of Anna’s child would be as untarnished as this globe, which had remained shining in spite of his having breathed on it. Thereupon I saw as if the angel lifted the globe until it stood like an encircling halo in the air, in which I saw, as through an opening in it, a series of pictures starting with the Fall and ending with the Redemption of mankind. The whole course of the world passed before my eyes as one picture merged into another. I knew and understood it all, but I cannot reproduce the details. Above, at the very summit, I saw the Blessed Trinity, and below and on one side of the Trinity, I saw the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve, the Fall, the promise of Redemption and all its prototypes–Noah, the Flood, the Ark, the receiving of the blessing through Abraham, its handing on to his firstborn Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, how it was taken from Jacob by the angel with whom he struggled, how the blessing came to Joseph in Egypt and increased in glory in him and in his wife. I saw how the sacred presence of the blessing was removed by Moses from Egypt with relics of Joseph and his wife Asenath, and became the Holy of Holies of the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of the living God among His people. Then I saw the reverence paid by God’s people to this sacred thing and their ceremonies respecting it; I saw the relationships and marriages which formed the sacred genealogy of the Blessed Virgin’s ancestry, as well as all the prototypes and symbols of her and of Our Savior in history and in the prophets. All this I saw in encircling symbols and also rising from the lower part of the ring of light. I saw pictures of great cities, towers, palaces, thrones, gates, gardens, and flowers, all strangely woven together as it were by bridges of light; and all were being attacked and assaulted by fierce beasts and other figures of might. These pictures all signified how Our Blessed Lady’s ancestral family, from which God was to take Flesh and be made Man, had been led, like all that is holy, by God’s grace through many assaults and struggles. I remember, too, having seen at a certain point in this series of pictures a garden surrounded by a thick hedge of thorns, which a host of serpents and other loathsome creatures attempted in vain to penetrate. I also saw a strong tower assaulted on all sides by men-at-arms, who were falling down from it. I saw many pictures of this kind, relating to the history of the ancestry of the Blessed Virgin; and the bridges and passages which joined all together signified the victory over all attempts to disturb, hinder, or interrupt the work of salvation. It was as if by God’s compassion there had been poured into mankind, as into a muddy stream, a pure flesh and a pure blood, and as if this had, with great toil and difficulty, to reconstitute itself out of its scattered elements, the whole stream striving the while to draw it into its troubled waters; and then, as if by the countless mercies of God and the faithful cooperation of mankind, it had at last issued forth, after many pollutions and many cleansings, in an unfailing stream out of which rose the Blessed Virgin, from whom the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.
 
Among the pictures that I saw in the globe of light there were many which occur in the litany of the Blessed Virgin. Whenever I say that litany, I see them and recognize them and venerate them with great devotion. The pictures in the globe unfolded themselves still further till they reached the fulfillment of all God’s compassion towards mankind, so divided and dispersed in its fallen state, and ended, on the side opposite the Garden of Eden, with the heavenly Jerusalem at the foot of the Throne of God. After I had seen all these pictures, the globe (which was really a series of pictures passing in and out of a circle of light) disappeared. I think that all this was a communication to Joachim of a vision revealed to him by the angel and also seen by me. Whenever I receive such a communication, it appears in a circle of light like a globe.
 
 
Joachim Receives the Blessing from the Ark of the Covenant
 
I saw now that the angel touched or anointed Joachim’s forehead with the tip of his thumb and forefinger, and that he gave him a shining morsel to eat and a luminous liquid to drink from a gleaming little chalice which he held between two fingers. It was of the shape of the chalice at the Last Supper, but without a foot. It seemed to me, too, that this food which he put in his mouth took the form of a little shining ear of corn and a little shining cluster of grapes, and I understood that thereafter every impurity and every sinful desire left Joachim. Thereupon I saw that the angel imparted to Joachim the highest and holiest fruit of the blessing given by God to Abraham, and culminating, through Joseph, in the holy thing within the Ark of the Covenant, in the presence of God among His people. He gave Joachim this blessing in the same form as I had been shown before, except that while the angel of benediction gave Abraham the blessing from himself, out of his bosom as it were, he seemed to give it to Joachim from out of the Holy of Holies.
 
The blessing of Abraham was as it were the beginning of God’s grace given in blessing to the father of His future people so that from him might proceed the stones for the building of His Temple. But when Joachim received the blessing, it was as though the angel were taking the holy benediction from the tabernacle of this Temple and delivering it to a priest, in order that from him might be formed the holy vessel in which the Word was to be made Flesh. All this cannot be expressed in words, for I speak of that Holy of Holies inviolate, yet violated in man when he sinned and fell. From my earliest youth I have very often, in my visions from the Old Testament, seen into the Ark of the Covenant, and have always had the impression of a complete church, but more solemn and awe-inspiring. I saw therein not only the Tables of the Law as the written Word of God, but also a sacramental presence of the Living God, like the roots of the wine and wheat and of the flesh and blood of the future sacrifice of our redemption.
 
The grace given by this blessed presence produced, with the cooperation of God-fearing men under the Law, that holy tree whose final blossoming was the pure flower in which the Word became flesh and God became Man; thus, giving us, in the New Covenant, His humanity and His divinity by instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, without which we cannot attain eternal life. I have never known the Ark of the Covenant without the sacramental presence of God except when it had fallen into the hands of the enemy, at which times the holy presence was safe in the hands of the high priest or of one of the prophets. When only the Tables of the Law were present in the Ark of the Covenant, without the holy treasure, it seemed to me like the Temple of the Samaritans on Mount Garizim, or like a church of our own time which is without the Blessed Sacrament and, instead of the Tables of the Law written by God’s hand, contains only the books of Holy Scripture imperfectly understood by mankind.
 
In the Ark of the Covenant made by Moses, which stood in the Temple and Tabernacle of Solomon, I saw this most Holy Thing of the Old Covenant in the form of a shining circle crossed by two smaller rays of light intersecting each other; but now, when the angel imparted the blessing to Joachim, I saw this blessing being given to him in the form of something shining, like a shining seed or bean in shape, which he laid in the open breast of Joachim’s garment. When the blessing was imparted to Abraham, I saw grace being conveyed to him in the same manner, and its virtue and efficacy remaining with him in the degree ordained by God until he handed it over to his firstborn son Isaac, from whom it passed to Jacob and from him, through the angel, to Joseph, and from Joseph and his wife, with increased virtue, to the Ark of the Covenant. I perceived that the angel bound Joachim to secrecy, and I understood why it was that later Zechariah, the Baptist’s father, had become dumb after he had received the blessing and the promise of Elizabeth’s fruitfulness from the Angel Gabriel at the Altar of Incense. [ St. Luke 1.9-22.] It was revealed to me, that with this blessing Joachim received the highest fruit and the true fulfillment of Abraham’s blessing, namely the blessing for the immaculate conception of the most Holy Virgin who was to bruise the head of the serpent. The angel then led Joachim back into the Holy Place and disappeared, upon which Joachim sank to the ground in an ecstasy as though paralyzed. The priests who re-entered the Holy Place found him radiant with joy. They lifted him up reverently, and placed him outside in a seat generally used only by priests. Here they washed his face, held some strong-smelling substance to his nostrils, gave him to drink and in general treated him as one does someone who has fainted. When he had recovered, he looked young and strong, and was beaming with joy.
 
 
Joachim and Saint Anne Meet Beneath the Golden Gate
 
It was a warning from on high that had led Joachim into the Holy Place, and it was by a similar inspiration that he was brought into a subterranean passage which belonged to the consecrated part of the Temple and ran under it and under the Golden Gate. I have been told what was the meaning and origin of this passage when the Temple was built, and also what it was used for, but I have no clear recollection of this. Some religious observance relating to the blessing and reconciliation of the unfruitful was, I think, connected with this passage. In certain circumstances people were brought into it for rites of purification, expiation, absolution, and the like.  Joachim was led by priests near the slaughtering-place through a little door into this passage. The priests turned back, but Joachim continued along the passage, which gradually sloped downwards. Anna had also come to the Temple with her maidservant, who was carrying the doves for sacrifice in wicker baskets. She had handed over her offering and had revealed to a priest that she had been bidden by an angel to meet her husband under the Golden Gate. I now saw that she was led by priests, accompanied by some venerable women (among whom I think was the prophetess Anna), through an entrance on the other side into the consecrated passage, where her companions left her. I had a very wonderful view of what this passage was like. Joachim went through a little door; the passage sloped downwards, and was at first narrow but became broader afterwards. The walls were of glistening gold and green, and a reddish light shone in from above. I saw beautiful pillars like twisted trees and vines. After passing through about a third of the passage Joachim came to a place in the midst of which stood a pillar in the form of a palm tree with hanging leaves and fruits. Here he was met by Anna, radiant with happiness. They embraced each other with holy joy, and each told the other their good tidings. They were in a state of ecstasy and enveloped in a cloud of light. I saw this light issuing from a great host of angels, who were carrying the appearance of a high shining tower and hovering above the heads of Anna and Joachim. The form of this tower was the same as I see in pictures, from the litany of the Blessed Virgin, of the Tower of David, the Tower of Ivory, and so forth. I saw that this tower seemed to disappear between Anna and Joachim, who were enveloped in a glory of brightness. I understood that, as a result of the grace here given, the conception of Mary was as pure as all conceptions would have been but for the Fall. I had at the same time an indescribable vision. The heavens opened above them, and I saw the joy of the Holy Trinity and of the angels, and their participation in the mysterious blessing here bestowed on Mary’s parents. Anna and Joachim returned, praising God, to the exit under the Golden Gate: towards the end the passage sloped upwards. They came into a kind of chapel under a beautiful and high arch, where many lights were burning. Here they were received by priests who led them away. The part of the Temple above which was the hall of the Sanhedrin lay over the middle of the subterranean passage; above this end of it were, I think, dwellings of priests whose duty it was to look after the vestments. Joachim and Anna now came to a kind of bay at the outermost edge of the Temple hill, overlooking the valley of Josaphat, where the path could no longer go straight on but branched to right and left. After they had visited another priest’s house, I saw Joachim and Anna and their servants starting on their journey home. On their arrival at Nazareth, Joachim, after a joyful meal, gave food to many poor people and distributed generous alms. I saw how full he and Anna were of joy and fervor and gratitude to God when they thought of His compassion towards them; I often saw them praying together with tears.
 
It was explained to me here that the Blessed Virgin was begotten by her parents in holy obedience and complete purity of heart, and that thereafter they lived together in continence in the greatest devoutness and fear of God. I was at the same time clearly instructed how immeasurably the holiness of children was encouraged by the purity, chastity, and continence of their parents and by their resistance to all unclean temptations; and how continence after conception preserves the fruit of the womb from many sinful impulses. In general, I was given an overflowing abundance of knowledge about the roots of deformity and sin.
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