The Annunciation: fresco. Vysoky Decani Monastery. 14th c.
Virgin Theotokos Rejoice, Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee! Truly, beloved Christians, these words are on the lips of every Christian soul in moments of anguish and distress. Who does not, in trials and sickness and persecution, flee to the Theotokos turning his or her soul to the familiar hymns of the Small or Great Paraklisis, which our pious mothers and grandmothers knew by heart? Who does not have the Theotokos as a rampart, a sure defense, redemption in trials? Who has not gazed at her holding her Worshiped Son as he prays before her revered icon, “Thou who art the Mother of the mystical Son, enlighten the eyes of my darkened soul”? And how dark and conflicted is the heart and soul of man! How vile and unrepentant we are, dens of vipers and thieves and sins and every vice. Yet, our sympathetic Lady, the Most Holy Mother of God is the sure harbor of every Christian soul. She is speedy in intersessions and an unfailing hope of salvation. Despite the internal disarray of her children’s spiritual life, as a lovingly compassionate Mother she never fails them: she is always on the ready to save those who cry to her in all sincerity. As the palace of the Logos, the Word, in the words of the Akathist hymn, she is the abode prepared by the Heavenly King’s Bodily Incarnation.
On this occasion, on the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, all generations exclaim the salutation of the Angel—with the Archangel’s voice—crying Rejoice to the Theotokos. Today is the Annunciation, the Ευαγγελισμός, the heralding of triumphant, beatific news. Today, the Archangel Gabriel announces the Gospel of Glad Tidings to the Most Holy, the Παναγία, and, in the words of the divine hymnographer, “Straightaway accepting the salutation she conceived the Pre-Eternal God.” What an inexplicable mystery! If you and I appreciated the severity of the event and it’s eternal ramifications we would spend the totality of our earthly lives in service to Christ and neighbor. We, however, from obstinacy and spiritual insensitivity spend our Christian lives in wrath and idleness, partaking of every pleasure and lust to satisfy our cravings and temperaments. What grace, virtue, love, understanding, and profit we would gain by following Christ’s Gospel, by living in such a manner as if the Annunciation, this Good News, this Gospel received today had ramifications for our own lives! “The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel announces the glad tidings of grace.” What if “the crown of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery which is from before all ages” received today was actually pivotal to our existence and not an abstract theory? The mystery before the ages, that is, that God willed to be born of a woman, born under the law, so we may obtain freedom and regeneration in Christ is brought to pass today. Today, God enters our existence and sanctifies our fallen humanity by becoming Man in the womb of the Virgin by a seedless, immaculate conception. Treasuring this mystery as a precious treasure, let us live the Mystery not in an abstract way, but in an incarnated, focused, resurrectional way.
“She is the pure treasure of virginity, the intended paradise of the Second Adam, the place where the union of natures (divine and human) was accomplished, and the Counsel of salvific reconciliation was affirmed,” in the words of St. Proklus of Constantinople. If the Old Eve disobeyed God’s law bringing death and damnation on the world, then the New Eve, the Theotokos, obeys God’s most Holy Will, the result of that Will being the Uncontainable God’s containment within Her most holy womb. The Second Person of the Trinity and His divine indwelling within the Virgin deified her: Our Lord received his humanity from her divine blood, and she united our humanity to heaven. This lofty theological concept is clearly expressed in one of the prayers which we read before Holy Communion, written by St. Simeon the Translator. St Simeon wrote: Thou didst take to Thyself our entire human composition from the pure blood of the Virgin who gave birth to Thee beyond nature, by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the good-will of the Ever-Existing Father. O Christ Jesus, Wisdom of God and Peace and Power, through the human nature which Thou didst take to Thyself... And he continues, Thou didst suffer the life-creating and saving Passion: the Cross, the nails, the spear, death itself. This exposition of the Faith as expressed here, in the words of St. Simeon, is extremely important as concerns the Annunciation for, on this day, Christ Jesus not only takes on becoming something that He was not to make us something that He is, but also, He sets into motion a chain of events which will lead to the Holy and Saving Passion. For that purpose, by His own Testimony, He came into the world.
Setting aside the fact that the Annunciation is nine months before the Feast of Christ’s Nativity, let us focus on the fact that this Feast always falls during the Great and Holy Fast. This signifies to us the interconnectivity between the Word’s Incarnation in our time, our space, our reality, our very nature, and the final days and hours of His earthly sojourn. We will hear, on the Paschal night that In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us... full of grace and truth. This is the fullness of grace we have received (grace for grace) on this Feast of the Annunciation which is the beginning, proper, of our Paschal celebrations. Today we “fast forward”, as it were, to Pascha, and on the Paschal night when we hear the above Gospel we “rewind” back to the Annunciation, for the Paschal Mystery, Christ Divine Resurrection, His Defeat of Death, would be absolutely impossible and unattainable if not for this saving Feast.
Rejoice. This is the word with which the Angel addressed the Mother of God at the Annunciation. Rejoice! This is the word with which Christ greets the women disciples after the Resurrection as He bids them to Announce the glad tidings of joy of the Resurrection to His brethren the Apostles, signifying the complete annihilation of Eve’s curse and death’s defeat. Let the acclamation from the Akathist Rejoice Thou who annulled the ancient curse of old herald through our temples on this day. Despite the restrictions placed upon us by the health authorities, let us prepare in earnest to celebrate the Lord’s Passion and Holy Pascha in Christian piety, making every effort to cleanse our souls of defilement of flesh and spirit in the sacrament of Holy Confession in time for Holy Week. On the Paschal night, whether we are in the Procession around the parish church or at home unable, due to the measures, to attend the Paschal service, we shall look to heaven and hear the Angels praising Christ’s Resurrection with us, as they unite themselves to the race of mankind to form a common choir: Thy Resurrection O Christ our Savior, the Angels in Heaven sing. Enable us who are on earth to glorify Thee with Purity of Heart!