Encyclicals on the Great Feast of the Annunciation 2016

    

Abp. Demetrios (GOARCH):

He has chosen you to be His dwelling. (Hymn of Vespers)

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On this holy and beautiful Feast of the Annunciation we celebrate the astonishing announcement by Archangel Gabriel to our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos, about the coming of the Holy One, the Son of God, who would bring salvation and an eternal kingdom of peace. In proclaiming this message of hope and grace, Gabriel states the miraculous manner by which God will enter our humanity: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you (Luke 1:35).  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus (Luke 1:31).

This amazing announcement was given to one who became the Mother of God, and on this Feast and in our divine services and prayers we honor the Theotokos and Virgin Mary for this unique and sacred role. The tremendous significance and honor of this is described in so many ways in the beautiful hymns of our Holy Orthodox Church including this hymn from today’s celebration: “Hail, you pure chariot of the divinity: God has loved you from eternity, and He has chosen you to be His dwelling.”

In becoming the dwelling of Christ by the grace of God, the Theotokos was exalted among humankind, and we honor her for finding favor with God. We also honor her and her witness for the reasons she was chosen. First, she became the dwelling of Christ because of her deep faith in God. In receiving the announcement from Gabriel, she affirmed her trust even as she wondered how this would even happen. She accepted readily the words of the angel as he affirmed, for with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37).

Second, she became the dwelling of Christ because of her purity of heart, mind, and body. In communion with God, the Theotokos lived in holiness and followed the path of righteousness. She was consecrated as the Temple of God because of the sacredness of her life. Her body became the dwelling of the Creator of the universe because she found favor with God (Luke 1:30).

Finally, the Virgin Mary became the dwelling of Christ because of her obedience to the will of God. In response to the announcement of the angel she proclaimed, Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Her obedience was her choice. She believed that the will of God led to salvation. From her faith and purity of life, she could trust in God’s divine wisdom and in the revelation of His will offered by Gabriel.

From the example of the Theotokos as the dwelling of Christ, we can see the priority of His presence in our lives. Certainly, we recognize the distinction with the Incarnation of our Lord through the Virgin Mary, but we affirm the attributes that make us also the dwelling of Christ. Through faith we receive the grace of God offered through Christ. Our lives are filled with His presence. We experience this presence and know Him as we live in holiness, seeking to become pure in heart, mind, and body by the power He offers. We become the dwelling of Christ by receiving Him through the Holy Eucharist, by seeking His will through prayer, and by following the will of God throughout our lives. Because He dwells with us and within us, we become His witnesses and His voice offering the Gospel of grace and life in our world today.

... As we celebrate this Feast, may you be inspired by the Theotokos as the dwelling of Christ, seeking through faith, purity, and obedience to be chosen by the grace of God to be His dwelling and to be His voice.

With paternal love in Christ,

†DEMETRIOS

Archbishop of America

* * *

Met. Joseph (Antiochian Archdiocese of N. America):

Today is the beginning of our salvation, and the manifestation of the mystery from the ages; for the Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaimeth grace. Wherefore, do we shout with him to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O full of grace! The Lord is with thee. (Apolytikion of the Annunciation)

We greet you with love and joy on this Holy Feast of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Most Holy Theotokos.

The Apolytikion quoted above communicates to us the awesome nature of this holy feast, which is the action of a loving God which initiates the events by which humankind is redeemed from the sins of the past. The Archangel announces to the woman who will become the Most Holy Theotokos that she has been chosen to be the tabernacle which will hold the very Son of God. Through her obedience to the will of God, the Virgin Mary becomes a participant in the lifting up of a fallen world to heaven. St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan expresses the awesome nature of this mystery when he writes "The message of God to the Virgin was a mystery so great that it must needs not be uttered by the mouth of man, but only by an Angel. For the first time on earth the words are spoken: The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee. The holy maiden heareth and believeth." How possible it might have been for the Holy Virgin to be frightened and confused by this strange and unbelievable salutation by the Angel Gabriel. But such was her faith and purity that she not only accepted the message, but embraced it with all of her heart, knowing that her fate was completely in the hands of God who would never abandon her.

Embodied in this action by God is the unification of the flesh of man with the image of God. It represents the restoral of humankind from a fallen and broken state, to an exalted state of unity with God. St. Proclus, who served as Archbishop of Constantinople in the fifth century says the following: "The Holy Mother of God and Virgin Mary hath gathered us here. She, the pure treasure of virginity, the intended paradise of the Second Adam – the locus wherein was accomplished the co-unity of natures, wherein was affirmed the Counsel of salvific reconciliation."

The great joy of this holy feast, occurring in the midst of the solemn Holy Season of the Great Fast, brings us a moment of uplifting joy in the midst of our Lenten spiritual struggle. We convey our most heartfelt love to you as we celebrate this joyous feast and we ask our gracious Lord to bless you and to grant that the remainder of the Lenten Season will bring you spiritual renewal.

Yours in Christ,

+Joseph
Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archidiocese of North America

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