Anna the Prophetess: A Wonderful Example to the Elderly
On the eighth day of the blessed month of Meshir, the Coptic Orthodox Church commemorates the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the temple, a Jewish tradition of blessing, carried out forty days following a childs birth; and also a tradition the Coptic Orthodox Church follows in offering baptism to forty day old male babies.
Present in the temple, at the time our Lord Jesus Christ was brought in, was Simeon of Jerusalem, a devout, just, elderly man. Simeon was said to have been waiting for the "Consolation of Israel", the indescribable joy of the prophesied deliverance that the Messiah had been waited for to bring to Israel. Through the Holy Spirit Who was upon Simeon of Jerusalem, it had been revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's (God the Father's) Christ. Encumbered with old age and poor vision, Simeon came by the Spirit into the Temple. Seeing the Lord Jesus Christ, he took the Infant Child into his arms and blessed God, St. Joseph, and St. Mary.
But the advanced in years, Simeon, was not the only one led by the Spirit to the infant Lord Jesus. There was another elderly and devout person also anticipating and prepared to meet her Messiah...
"Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day" (Luke 2:36-37).
According to Hill (1993), prophecy (of the prophets and prophetesses) in the New Testament is the "reception and subsequent communication of spontaneous and divinely given revelations; normally those who were designated "prophets" in early Christianity were specialists in mediating divine 'revelation' rather than those who prophesied occasionally or only once." Anna was a prophetess who followed in the company of such prophetesses as Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the Old Testament.
Living in the Temple, Anna the prophetess had served the Lord faithfully and actively with fasting and prayer day and night, for many years. She did not excuse herself with the frailty of old age; nor consider herself too lonely or too old to actively serve the Lord. Anna the prophetess may well have been over one hundred years old; some Biblical scholars have speculated. It is important to note that she was documented as a member of the tribe of Asher which had not completely lost its identity by the time St. Luke wrote his Gospel. The godly of the Israelite tribes at the time of the "Presentation in the Temple" had gone south of Judah prior to the 722 BC deportation of most in the northern tribes to Assyria. Not until St. James, will New Testament writings again, in depth, specifically address all twelve tribes of Israel (James 1:1).
One can try to imagine how rich the life of Anna the prophetess was at over one hundred years of age. The most spiritual and faithful people in the Holy Bible were those whose life was filled with fasting and prayer. For people such as Anna, the power of her prayer kept her service to the Lord truly active. According to the prophet Isaiah, "...those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
"...Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all your waves and billows have gone over me" (Psalm 42:7). Thus David the psalmist has expressively pictured immense and intense trials and tribulations. In her life, Anna the prophetess went through a lot of hardships. As a widow, Anna could have possibly been stricken with poverty. Her residing in the temple is yet a vivid sign of great need. In addition, having lost her husband only seven years after their marriage must have been a hard experience of grief over the loss of a beloved one. Anna the prophetess, according to Biblical accounts and historians, must have seen many of the remaining tribe of Asher (her family and/or extended family) migrate out of Jerusalem
However, no where is it recorded that the prophetess became despaired with her poverty and multiple losses; nor repeatedly used terms of hopelessness or depression. Instead, she continued to strongly dedicate her life to the power of prayer and fasting, feeling the mighty assurance and great results of her prayer life and continuous faithful service.
Annas life of constant prayer and fasting led to yet another bigger and more glorious blessed experience of evangelism, happiness and thanksgiving. At the dedication service, Anna the prophetess picked up the chance and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and had the honor of happily carrying the news of the Child, the Lord Jesus Christ, to "all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38); to the faithful remaining in Jerusalem. This might possibly have included, not the entire tribe of her people; but also what was left of the tribe, Asher, of her people in Jerusalem.
Tertullian (c.210) provocatively said, "Show me your authority. If you are a prophet, foretell something for us." Certainly it can be said that Anna the prophetess foretold much more than "something"; as she foretold of the Redemption of Jerusalem.
In our daily, evening prayers we continue to confess and confirm in our hearts and minds that the Lord Jesus Christ is still today the salvation, God has prepared for all people, that the Lord Jesus Christ is still the Light to the gentiles, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is still the Glory of Israel in the same manner as Simeon the just elderly man had spiritually proclaimed and Anna the elderly prophetess had given thanks unto God for; and carried the pertaining Good News.
May we all consider carefully the inspiring example of continuous prayer, fasting, thanksgiving and evangelism personified in and by the very aged Anna the prophetess. May we all, including the elderly among us, follow her footsteps in actively serving God in the many wonderful ways available, in anticipation of the glorious Eternal Life.
God bless you,
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Orthodox Study Bible. (1993). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.
King James Bible Commentary. (1999). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.
Youanis, B. (1994). Paradise of the Spirit. Burr Ridge: St. Mark Orthodox Publishing Co., Inc.