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Annunciation of the Holy Virgin

In the Holy Land, in the city of Nazareth, there is a spring of water which is called “the spring of the Mother of God.” According to holy tradition, the young maiden Mary went to this spring for water, as maidens and young women did in those days. And there, at this spring, She heard a voice: “Thou wilt give birth to My Son.” She alone heard this voice, but Her pure soul trembled at the voice of Her Lord and Creator. Trembling and fearful, She returned to Her house, and trying to calm Her agitated soul, took up Her favorite pastime – reading the Holy Scriptures.

And when She began reading, She chanced upon that part of the Book Isaiah which talks about the Saviour of the world being born of a Virgin. But so profound was Her humbleness, that despite the words which She had just heard at the spring, She did not even think of applying the prophecy to Herself, but simply thought: “How glad would I be to become even the lowliest servant of this most blessed Maiden.”

The Annunciation

At this moment, as the Gospel tells us, the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, and She heard his words: “Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee! Blessed art Thou among women.”

The appearance of the angel did not itself frighten the Virgin, because it was not new to Her. Before moving to Nazareth, She lived at the temple where, according to tradition, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her, brought Her food, and conversed with Her. Thus, She would not have been particularly agitated by his coming. But She heard from him an unusual greeting, which no other maiden or woman had ever heard before, and so She was bewildered by the angel’s words and began pondering their meaning. The Archangel continued: “Fear not, Mary, for Thou hast found favour with God; Thou shalt bring forth a Son and shalt call His name Jesus; He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”

When the Virgin Mary heard the Archangel’s annunciation, She became even more bewildered: how could She become a mother, when She had vowed to remain a virgin? And so She humbly asked the angel: “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?”

But when the Archangel said to Her: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow Thee,” and ended his annunciation with the words “for with God nothing shall be impossible,” She understood that this birth would be supernatural and, calming down, She said those divine words which the Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow called “an annunciation from earth to heaven.”

Let us note: the Archangel has seemingly done his job, has told Her everything, has explained everything, – but he is still waiting for something, he is still not leaving, and finally he hears Her answer, about which the Metropolitan Philaret said, that if the angel’s message was an annunciation from heaven to earth, then Her words were an annunciation from earth to heaven: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord – be it unto me according to thy word.”

Excited by all that had transpired, and having learned from the angel of the special event that had occurred in the life of her older relative, the righteous Elizabeth, who, after having lost all hope of ever having children, was now herself an expectant mother, the Theotokos hurried over to her. And great was Her joy when She entered Elizabeth’s house and heard from her the very same words with which She had been greeted in Nazareth by the angel: “Blessed art Thou among women!” And at this point from Her pure heart poured forth the prayer which is so beloved by the Church and which is sung at every matins: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and My spirit hath rejoiced in God My Saviour…” And further She speaks of how the Lord has looked with favor upon Her humility, and that it has become clear to Her how high now is Her lot: “For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call Me blessed, for He that is Mighty hath done to Me great things.” And She adds, glorifying God: “…and holy is His name.”

This entire event clearly showed the basic character traits of the Theotokos: Her amazing humility, because of which She could not at first encompass the thought of becoming the Mother of God, and Her loyalty to God and complete submission to His divine will, in accordance with which She called Herself the handmaiden of God. The Holy Virgin gave us the highest and holiest example of how we must always be primarily concerned with fulfilling the will of God, especially during important moments of our lives, as She Herself fulfilled it on the day of Her Annunciation.

The time came for the appearance of Christ the Saviour in the world. There were no more princes of Judah left, and the throne of David was occupied by Herod, an Idumean. The decades foretold by Daniel, which indicated the exact time when Christ was to be born, had come to pass. The promise of a Saviour was safeguarded not only among the chosen people, but the pagans also eagerly awaited the arrival of a great messenger from heaven. This was like the early dawn, when the sun had not yet risen, but its glimmering was already dispersing the darkness.

The glorious event of the Annunciation, as described by the holy Evangelist Luke, mentions only its high points. It is very unlikely that the holy Archangel Gabriel appeared and said only the few words reported to us by St. Luke. The Evangelist mentions the most important points, as the entire Gospel generally speaks only of the most important things, because it is said there that if one were to write down all that the Lord Jesus Christ said and did, the whole world could not contain such a vast number of books.

However, the tradition of the Holy Church, together with the writings of the Holy Fathers, have provided us with some additional details of this great event.

Annunciation of the Holy Virgin
Annunciation of the Holy Virgin

In the Holy Land, in the city of Nazareth, there is a certain well to which the Holy Virgin used to go when She was still a young maiden, to draw water as was customary in those times. It is here, at this well, that She once heard a voice saying: Thou shalt give birth to My Son. She alone heard this voice. Who said those words? Obviously they were spoken by the One Whose Son was to be born from Her, i.e. by God the Father Himself. And although the words were for Her alone, whenever creation hears the voice of its Creator and Master, it trembles. And thus Her virginal and pure soul began to tremble. In trembling and fear She returned home, and in order to somehow calm Her soul She engaged in Her favorite pastime the reading of the Holy Scriptures.

However, when She opened the book and began to read, She came upon the passage in Prophet Isaiah which speaks of the Saviour being born of a Virgin.

But so profound was Her divine and fragrant modesty, that despite the words She had heard at the well She never thought of applying this prophecy to Herself, but after having read of the Saviours birth from a Virgin She thought very simply: How happy I would be to be even the lowest servant of this Most-blessed Virgin! And at this point the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, and She heard his words: Hail, Thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with Thee: blessed art Thou among women! We know from Her life that the appearance of an angel was nothing new for Her. Angels had appeared to Her many times before while She was living at the temple, but the words which She heard this time disconcerted Her. She started pondering what such a greeting could mean. And She heard the Archangel continue speaking to Her: Fear not, Mary, for Thou hast found favor with God. Thou shalt bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.

The church service for this feast has retained the touching tradition that the Archangels words were more detailed, and that seeing Her agitation the holy Archangel Gabriel said to the Virgin: Why dost Thou fear me, Why dost Thou tremble before me, O Mistress, before Whom I myself tremble I myself stand before Thee in pious awe!

The Most-holy Virgin believed the Archangels words and therefore did not demand any signs from him, as had the high priest Zacharias when he was told of the forthcoming birth of his son (St. John the Baptist). But Her invariable love of chastity encouraged Her to ask the Archangel: How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?

In order to understand this question correctly, one must know that Mary had previously given the promise to remain virginal all Her life, for if She were not bound by such a promise, and was engaged to a man, what reason would She have to question the possibility of bearing a son? But when the Archangel said to Her: The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Highest shall over-shadow Thee, She understood that this would be a supernatural birth, and quieting down, She said those wondrous words which St. Philaret of Moscow called glad tidings from earth to heaven!

The feast of the Annunciation combines two concepts which are incompatible in earthly terms: glad tidings from heaven to earth and reciprocal glad tidings from earth to heaven through the Holy Virgins humility. She replied: Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word, i.e. I am the Lords handmaiden, and a handmaiden does not question the Masters actions, but only submits to His will and follows it.

Humility, total obedience, and complete loyalty to Gods will such was required in order to achieve total salvation of fallen mankind.

Let this be a lesson to all of us for all time: the humility of the Most-holy Virgin, which at first impeded Her acceptance of the tidings that She would become the Mother of God, and Her obedience to God, which led Her to aver that She was the Lords handmaiden and would accept all that would happen to Her in accordance with the tidings of the heavenly messenger. Amen.

Rev. Igor Hrebinka
    AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH.
Homily for the feast of Annunciation.

A wondrous mystery, unimaginable to human mind, is commemorated and celebrated today by the Holy Church: the incarnation of the Creator of ages and worlds the Son of God. The unencompassable God is encompassed within the virginal womb of the Holy Maiden, the bodiless One takes on a body, the infinite One is made finite, the inaccessible One becomes accessible, the Word becomes flesh, the infinitely great One becomes reduced, and the unlimited One becomes limited; God merges with men and He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb. 2:11). Thus, the mystery concealed for ages, hidden from the very beginning, and unknown to the angels is now revealed, and the Son of God becomes the Son of man, so that having taken on the worse, i.e. our nature, He can give us the infinitely better, i.e. sanctification, renewal, deification. Now is the time to cry out rapturously: may creation rejoice, may all nature joyously celebrate, i.e. all of mankind, dignified by such honor from God, as well as all creatures, the heavens and the earth, seeing how God in His infinite mercy has come down to His creation and has taken on the nature of this creation for the sake of its salvation.

O incomprehensible mystery, a most joyous mystery, filling every spiritually sentient soul with delight, but at the same time a most awesome mystery! For the reason for such compassion, for such self-depletion are our sins. Only the All-benevolent, All-wise, and Omnipotent God could come up with such an extreme means of salvation of fallen mankind, and so deplete Himself in order to cure us of pride and all our sins by His example, and teach us humility, obedience, and all manner of virtue. As I said a joyous and soul-inspiring mystery!

How all of us have been honored, dear brethren, by the Son of Gods incarnation from the Holy Virgin, how dignified, comforted, filled with joy! God is with us: He has become our Intercessor, Redeemer, Saviour; the Mother of God has become our mother in grace, our Intercessor, Defender, Protector. Just imagine what would have become of mankind, if the Son of God had not come down so wonderfully, so magnanimously to us sinners, depressed and a thousand times ill-fated because of our sins and confrontation with God! How poor would mankind be, how pitiful, how joyless, how comfortless in the midst of its innumerable woes!

And now how much daily comfort there is for the faithful and the penitent in the Son of God Who has become incarnate for us! He is the hope, the purification, the sanctification of all repentant sinners, the protector of all who are aggrieved, the succor of all who sorrow, the consolation of all who despair, the relief of all who are burdened and weary, the reward of all who labor spiritually, the light of all who are in darkness, the strength of all who are failing, the helper in all good deeds, the comrade-in-arms in all spiritual warfare, the solace of all the righteous, the eternal life of all who believe in Him. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, says the Lord (John 11:25).

But the incarnation of the Son of God is simultaneously an awesome mystery and an instructive one, if we ponder upon what led the Son of God to such self-depletion, and to what we, mankind, are summoned and bound by the incarnation of the Son of God. On Gods part the reason for the incarnation was His boundless love for us, His creation, the love of the Prototype for His living, speaking image that had fallen and is perishing, while on our part it was our sins, our terrible fall, our inevitable eternal damnation.

Thus, what does the incarnation of the Son of God demand from us? Immediate, sincere, unhypocritical, and firm repentance of all our sins, correction of our hearts, and a holy and righteous life. Be ye holy as I, your God, am holy. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:17-18). We are daily assured that this, i.e. holiness and truth, is what the Lord Jesus Christ demands from us by the Lords Prayer, in which He teaches us to pray first and foremost that we may live righteously by the will of God and not by our own will: Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Such is the supreme responsibility which the incarnation of the Son of God places upon us, dear brethren: to live in righteousness and holiness, piously and honestly, and to shun all sin, all untruth and iniquity, else we shall be unworthy of the Son of God and of His Kingdom, and will subject ourselves to a most heavy condemnation, both here and in eternity. Amen.

Saint John of Kronstadt

 

THE SONG OF THE ARCHANGEL

 

The Annunciation

“The song of the Archangel sing we unto Thee, O Pure One: Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee!”

During the days of the Great Lent the holy Church gathers us together for one of its greatest feasts – the Annunciation of the Holy Theotokos. The Church directs our minds towards those sacred moments when God’s messenger – Archangel Gabriel – announced to the humble Maiden from Nazareth the mystery of God’s incarnation.

“Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee!” – greeted the heavenly denizen the One Who was to become the Mother of the pre-eternal God. Now we are on the threshold of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy: Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” Now God is taking up dwelling in the womb of the Virgin, in order to save the world from perdition.

The human mind remains silent before the mystery of the appearance of the pre-eternal God from the Virgin Mother.

It is impossible to comprehend it, it is impossible even to search for such comprehension among our usual concepts. One can only believe in it, one can only purify one’s heart, in order to have it enlightened by the Archangel’s song.Faith knows no bounds. It leads us directly to the throne of God. Along this path God’s Visage is revealed to us and illuminates us. And the main spiritual weakness of our days, brethren, is that we have lost the simplicity of a child’s faith – that faith which can do the impossible.

Our age is an age of little faith, an age of weak and frail faith. And it is precisely on this day of the Annunciation, when the impossible has become possible, and the unrealizable, from the human point of view, has become realized in actual life, that the holy Church appeals to our faith, to that small flame which burns in the heart of each one of us, preserving us from spiritual disintegration and corruption. It calls us onto the path of faithfulness to God, onto the path of submission to His benevolent will.

Have faith in God! Come to the realization and the feeling that nothing is impossible for the believer, that wherever God wills, the order of nature is overcome, since He does what He wills…

Let us try, brethren, to gaze with eyes of faith upon the mystery of God’s appearance in the flesh, and let us continuously pray for the Lord to strengthen our frail faith and to enlighten the eyes of our heart. And above all let us call upon the aid of the Queen of Heaven, for according to St. Seraphim, “it is impossible for the devil to destroy a man, lest that man himself ceases to appeal for aid to the Mother of God.”

O Holy Theotokos, save us!

 

Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)

(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 15, 2007)


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