Nativity of Mary: Eastern and Western Christians celebrate a holy birth

Full white statue of adult Virgin Mary holding out hands

A statue of the Virgin Mary in New York. Photo by Slice of NYC, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8: The Eastern and Western branches of Christianity celebrate Mary’s birth on the Nativity of Mary. Down through many centuries, churches honored three figures on both their birthdays and death anniversaries: Jesus, John the Baptist and Mary.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians know her as the Virgin Mary and she remains the only woman in Christian history to receive the honor of a holy birth (i.e. Immaculate Conception). Ironically, the modern canon of scripture gives no mention of exact details concerning Mary’s birth, as the earliest known account is contained in an apocryphal text from the second century. (Readings for the day and more are at USCCB.org.) The Church holds that the Virgin Mary was born without Original Sin, to Sts. Anne and Joachim in Jerusalem.

A feast for the Nativity of Mary began in the fifth century, and by the seventh century, it was recognized by Byzantine Christians to the East. For Eastern Orthodox Christian, September brings the first month of the Ecclesiastical Year. In France, the grape harvest is at a peak, and winegrowers refer to the Nativity of Mary as “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest.” (Wikipedia has details.) Prime grapes are brought to a local church to be blessed, and in some regions, bunches of grapes are attached to the hands of statues of Mary.

NEWS: APPARITIONS & A VATICAN REPORT

On a scale that has garnered attention from the Vatican, the small town of Medjugorje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been the site of mass tourism since the report of six youths over three decades ago that the Virgin Mary appeared to them. (New York Times has the story.) Unlike most apparitions, this one is reported to have lasted for 34 years—and continues today. Millions have traveled to Medjugorje with dozens of reports of miraculous healings and conversions, though the Vatican has exercised caution and is expected to soon make public its findings on the investigations concerning the apparitions.

 

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