Having been born as the answer to her parents’ fervent prayers, the Most-Holy Virgin Mary lived with them for three years. From her earliest moments, they taught her that she was born only thanks to their prayers to God and for that reason her life was dedicated to Him. Her place, therefore, was in God’s Temple, where she would be reared according to the Lord’s commandments.
This intention of Joachim and Anna, to consecrate their daughter to God, became well known in Jerusalem, and their friends and relatives all gathered for the event, including the childhood friends of St Mary. As they walked towards the Temple with the Virgin Mary, the girls carried candle and sang psalms. When the procession neared its destination, its priest, led by the high priest, emerged to greet them.
According to Blessed Jerome, there were fifteen stairs ascending to the Temple’s entrance, in accordance with the Song of Ascent psalms. Placed upon the first step by her mother, the Most-Holy Virgin Mary independently began climbing the remaining steps to the entrance. As they entered the Temple, the Holy Spirit moved Priest Zacharias to lead her into the sanctuary, to the Holy of Holies, which no one could enter except the High Priest, and then only once a year.
This event not only surprised everyone in attendance, but the Angels who were invisibly present, who, as we sing in the hymn “the angels were amazed seeing the Most Pure as Virgin entering with glory into the Holy of Holies.”
Righteous Zacharias arranged for the Holy Virgin to live in the Temple. At the time, it had various annexes built to it, in which its servants lived. There was also a hostel for maidens there.
Holy Righteous Joachim and Anna, leaving the Most-Holy Virgin Mary at the Temple, returned home, knowing that their daughter, having been sent as a Divine gift, would be their own sacrifice to the One Who had sent her to them.
Remaining to live at the Temple, the Holy Virgin Mary was under the supervision and guidance of pious women who taught her Holy Scripture as well as handicrafts.
In the words of St John the Damascene, having been removed from society of impious men and women, and her life served as the epitome of the finest and purest Virgin in comparison with the others. Vigilant prayer, humility and meekness were her exceptional qualities.
Her daily life at the Temple was such: from early morning she prayed, then read Holy Scripture, then began her handicrafts. Each day likewise ended in prayer.
With time, having studied Holy Scripture, the Most-Holy Virgin Mary turned her attention to the prophecies of Isaiah, who wrote in regard to the Messiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Pondering this text, she burned with the desire to see this blessed Virgin who would be deemed worthy to become the mother of the Savior of mankind.
While still young, the Most-Holy Virgin lost her parents. As an orphan, she devoted herself wholeheartedly to God, thinking nothing of earthly love or family life. Having made the vow of chastity, she opened for herself the path for full service to God, a path many Christian ascetics later would follow.
When the Most-Holy Virgin Mary turned fifteen, the High Priest and other priests began advising her to leave the Temple, and as was the custom then, get married. But the Most-Pure Virgin told them of her vow to remain forever a virgin, which caused great wonder among them. According to the rabbis, every man and woman of Israel were obliged to be married.
Then Priest Zacharias was faced with a dilemma: on one hand, the law did not permit a maiden who reached adulthood to remain at the Temple, on the other hand, he did not wish to force her to violate her vow.
Deliberating on this matter, he reached the following compromise: he offered her hand to a relative, the very old Joseph, who became her guardian. In order to fulfill the law, he was to become betrothed to her, but in fact he was to preserve her vow. A kind and sympathetic man, he agreed on the condition that she move to his home in Nazareth.
After the betrothal, Righteous Joseph headed with the Most-Holy Virgin to Galilee, to his hometown of Nazareth. The Most-Holy Virgin Mary was saddened that she had to leave the Temple. Still, seeing God’s will in all things, she obeyed Divine Providence.
Tradition has only preserved shreds of information of what family life was for Joseph. He was old enough to be the young maiden’s grandfather. A widower, his late wife Salome left him four sons: James, Joseph, Simon and Juda, and two daughters, Mary and Salome. The Gospel calls them the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Although the Righteous Joseph hailed from royal stock, as a descendant of King David, he lived very humbly, earning his bread through carpentry. He was a God-fearing man, meek and hard-working.
Troparion - Tone 4
Today is the prelude of the good will of God,
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
O Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation!
Kontakion - Tone 4
The most pure Temple of the Savior;
the Precious Chamber and Virgin;
the sacred Treasure of the Glory of God,
is presented today to the House of the Lord.
She brings with her the grace of the spirit,
which the angels of God do praise.
Truly this woman is the Abode of heaven!
In her later life, the Most-Holy Virgin Mary, according to St Ambrose of Milan, “She was a virgin in body and mind… humble in heart, grave in words, wise in her resolutions, she spoke seldom and little… She injured no one, was beneficent to all, honored her superiors, envied not equals, shunned vain-glory, followed reason, and ardently loved virtue. Her actions had nothing unbecoming, her gait nothing of levity, her voice nothing of overbearing assurance. Her exterior was so well regulated that in her body was seen a picture of her mind. Her charities knew no bounds, temperate in her diet she prolonged her fasts several days… it was not her custom to go out of doors except to the house of prayer, and this always in the company of relatives.”