St Anna and St Joachim, the parents of St Mary, are not mentioned by name in Holy Scripture. There is, however, a wealth of oral tradition concerning them. St Anna was a descendant of the royal line of King David. As she grew up, she was espoused to a God fearing, God loving man named Joachim, who lived near Nazareth.
This holy couple lived in great faith, simplicity and humility for twenty years without being blessed with children. Among the Jews this was viewed as a disgrace and a chastisement from heaven. Joachim and Anna were very unhappy because they had no children, but they never complained to the Lord, instead, they prayed continually that a child would be born to them. In sincere humility Joachim and Anna submitted to divine will.
Confidence in the goodness of God sustained them in their bitterest moments, and as they advanced into middle age they redoubled their offerings to God in the hope of obtaining grace from heaven. One day after long prayers and abundant tears, St Anna suddenly remembered having read in the Holy Scripture that the mother of Samuel, who like herself was named Anna, had made a vow that if she should be blessed with a child, she would dedicate it to God. St Anna followed her example. From the depth of her heart she uttered the same words pronounced by her saintly ancestor. St Joachim went into the desert to devote himself to prayer and fasting. St Anna performed the same devotion in her own house. St Joachim spent forty days in the desert. His grief soon turned into joy. An angel of the Lord came to him and said: “Joachim, you have been a faithful servant of God. The Most High from his throne in heaven has heard your prayers and longings. He will grant to you and your devout companion more than you have asked for. For behold Anna shall conceive and bring forth a daughter who shall be blessed among women and she shall be called Mary. This shall be a sign to you; namely, when you go to Jerusalem, you will meet your wife before the gate which is called golden.”
About the same time an angel appeared to St Anna and brought her the same joyful tidings. Without knowledge of the other’s revelation, Joachim and Anna rose up and went to the temple to give thanks to God. They met each other at the Golden Gate that stands behind the temple. Together they entered the temple with great joy and offered up a lamb. With humble prayers they thanked God for the great honour bestowed upon them.
A daughter, Mary (meaning illuminated), was born to them, and they did not forget their promise to dedicate the child to the service of God. When Mary was three years old, her parents took her to the temple where she was dedicated. Tradition tells us that she stayed there in the care of devoted women until she was betrothed at about the age of fourteen.
The Oil Bringing Women are the witnesses of Christ’s torments. They are the first to give the good tidings of the Resurrection of our Lord. These women followed Christ during His earthly mission. The church calls them “Oil-Bringing Women” because on the Sunday morning, following Christ’s death, they hurried to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus by the aromatic oils they had prepared. Due to their devoutness they were the first to see the Risen God, which they conveyed to the Apostles.
They were also present during Pentecost and, together with the Apostles, received the graces of the Holy Spirit.
The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of St Joachim and St Anna together with the Oil Bringing Women.