Christians honour the Mother of Jesus on 8 September – the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been a celebration in the church since the 8th century. It is worth remembering that the Church calendar observes only three birthdays: Jesus Christ, and the two saints – Saint John the Baptist on June 24, and Mary, Mother of Jesus on September 8. Pope Pius IX declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in 1854, though it was believed throughout the Church for centuries. Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption in 1950, stating that Mary was assumed into heavenly glory, body and soul at the end of her earthly course.
Orthodox Churches in India have five Lents, which are observed the world over, though some are more revered and acceptable to the faithful. The three-day Nineveh Nombu and the fifty-day lent (Forty days in most parts) are more popular; and among the other three Lents(Nombu), the twenty-five-day Yeldho Nombu and the fifteen-day Shoonoyo Nombu are moreacceptable, the thirteen-day Sleeha Nombu being the least observed. This special reverence towards certain Lents, churches or saints, is more likely to be attributed to personal reasons rather than spiritual! The eight-day lent, the ‘Ettu Nombu' as Practiced in Kerala in India, celebrating the birth of Virgin Mary is a great example of this in spite of having no canonical dogma from the church!
There is no mention of the birth of Mary or her parentage in the scripture, except for the mention in the apocryphal ‘Gospel of James'; Mary's parents: Joachim and Anne who were past the child bearing age, like the parents of John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zachariah. John the Baptist is believed to be sanctified even before his birth; his mother, Elizabeth, felt the infant leap in her womb when Mary approached her after the Annunciation.
The Orthodox Christians in India, especially in Kerala, celebrate the Feast of the Birth of Virgin Mary during eight days in September, ‘Ettu Nombu' – the eight-days' Lent'. It begins on the first day of September and ends in a grant celebration on 8 September. Believers feel blessed and receive enlightenment through the intercession of Virgin Mary. The real reason behind Ettu Nombu gaining in popularity is the immense faith attributed by people to Virgin Mary and their uncompromising dependence on Her in their personal needs. Intercession with Virgin Mary is highly valued and accepted and the faithful find the day of birth much more suitable than the day of Ascension.
‘Manarcad St Mary's Church' in Kerala (India) is famous for the ‘Manarcad Perunal (Feast for eight Days) or ‘Ettu Nombu', which is held annually from September 1-8. Pilgrims from all over the world travel to Manarcad to observe the fast for eight days and there is a grant procession during the last three days. According to the legend, the forefathers fasted and prayed for a place of worship and on the 8Th day they had a vision to build the Church in a specific spot. And thus, the St Mary's Church in Manarcad was built around 1000 years ago!
The ‘Eight-day Manarcad Perunal' attracts millions of worshippers who seek the blessings of Virgin Mary. The worshippers end the fast on the 8th day by attending the special function in the church on that day returning to their homes blessed by the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. HH Baselios Thomas 1, Catholicos of the East lead the prayers this year and millions of believers witnessed the special occasion. The ‘Milk rice' given to the worshippers after the ceremony is quite famous and revered by the people.
A mother figure, Virgin Mary and Child, is the pivotal object of worship in several religions, but the Orthodox Christians in India, more so in Kerala, celebrate Her birth by fasting for eight days during the ‘Ettu Nombu', which culminates in the celebratory Mass and procession on the 8Th day. St Mary's birth celebrations gain the great importance only through the anticipation of the Incarnation and birth of Jesus, the Son of God -- Mary was the ‘Chosen One' to be the Mother of Jesus!
Blessings of Virgin Mary to all, especially to all the mothers – celebrating motherhood on this auspicious day!