Monday, 24 March 2014

Annunciation of the Holy Virgin

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.
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 Saviour’s 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 Archangel’s 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 Archangel’s 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 Virgin’s humility. She replied: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word,” i.e. I am the Lord’s handmaiden, and a handmaiden does not question the Master’s actions, but only submits to His will and follows it.

Humility, total obedience, and complete loyalty to God’s 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 Lord’s handmaiden and would accept all that would happen to Her in accordance with the tidings of the heavenly messenger. Amen.

Rev. Igor Hrebinka

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