Eastern Church: September 2010 Archives
Rejoice, O barren one, who had not given birth; for the behold you have conceived clearly the one who is the dawn of eh Sun Who was about illuminate the whole universe, blighted with sightlessness. Shout in joy, O Zachary, crying in favor, truly, the one to be born is a Prophet of the High. (Troparion, 4th tone)
On the Byzantine liturgical calendar, today is the feast of the Conception of Saint John the Baptist. The Eastern Church, at least the Churches with a Greek origin, keeps three conception feasts: Our Lord (March 25), Our Lady (December 9) and the Baptist (September 23). The Latin Church only keeps two.
Calendar study will tell you that only the Savior has a perfect 9-month gestation period; Our Lady is a day under (September 8) and the Baptist, a day under (June 24). The liturgical calendar of the Latin Church places the conception of Mary on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The theology for today's feast is rooted in the biblical narrative of Zachary and Elizabeth, a couple who had no children and therefore in the eyes of the world plagued by divine disfavor. All of their lives Zachary and Elizabeth begged God to send them a son. Providence heard their prayer and in His plan and mercy for all, ordained that the dawn of salvation would be effected by the birth of John through the agency of the barren Elizabeth. The Church calls John the Prophet and Forerunner of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Other significant divinely merciful births to barren women who are a significant part of the Divine Plan of Salvation are Isaac son of Sarah and Samson born to the wife of Manoah (Samson's mother is not named in Scripture).