Imagine getting married while still young and after seven years of conjugal bliss your beloved husband dies. He is irreplaceable, so you dedicate yourself to God. For 84 years you endure seclusion and solitude, not leaving the temple sanctuary. 84 years of widowhood would be a life sentence of loneliness and depression under any other circumstances. But the holy, venerable Righteous Anna, who we commemorate today February 3rd, focused the loneliness into acquiring a deep, extremely mystical union with God. Along with St Symeon, she shut herself in the Temple and worked on cultivating a rich spiritual life, both externally by praising and serving the Lord in His House as well as internally by fasting and prayer.
For this she was graced with the power to “know God” and “become known” to Him. In other words, she became a prophet. Her words, because of her intense connection to God, were accepted as coming from Him. “She was empowered to speak for God, to reveal and interpret divine will. Anna’s words possessed authority. The religious community accepted them as authentic, coming from God” (117).
When that fateful morning the Holy Family walked into the Temple to have a four-day-old infant boy dedicated to God in keeping with the Jewish tradition, it was an old man St Symeon and even older woman St Anna who received them. Both ascetics recognized that the child was no ordinary boy but THE One, the prophesied Messiah, the great promise of Israel. By that time St Anna was over a hundred years old, a venerable figure.
Just visualize the encounter: two old, respected religious figures at the very end of their lives receiving the Infant Christ, the hope of Israel and the world, at the beginning of His earthly one. She was deemed worthy to know God in the flesh even when her flesh had wizened and withered. Like Symeon, she thanked God for letting her be witness to His coming in the flesh. But unlike Symeon who kept the news in his heart, Anna took it to the streets. Like a true prophet she shouted the good news of God’s arrival in the marketplace, in the Temple, loudly and clearly for all humanity to hear. “From Anna’s lips came the first proclamation of the Incarnation.”(118).
“Anna the Prophetess, along with Saint Elizabeth, mother of St John the Baptist, and Hermione and Eutychis, two of the famous prophesying daughters of St Philip the Evangelist, proves that the “gift of prophecy” is indeed not restricted to males. “Female” voices as well as “male” have the power to speak for God. The Holy Spirit never discriminated along gender lines” (118). Amen for that.
(Many thanks to Ms Toppings book, Saints and Sisterhood: The Lives of Women Saints from the Synaxarion, published by Light and Life Press from which all quotes are from).